In my ’80s

August 31, 2018

August 31 marks, for me, the end of a composting year. By this date, last year’s refuse will have become a rich worm-filled loam to spread across the garden, making room for this autumn’s offal. The hot weather slowed me this month; about ten wheelbarrow loads remain for harvest.

Composting deserves high marks as a hobby for an oldster. Check it out.

  1. The process begins in the kitchen. An attractive stainless steal bucket receives our discards.
  2. Kitchen refuse goes into a turnable drum in order to keep it from animals.IMG_1185.jpg
  3. Garden clippings and certain weeds are thrown directly onto the compost pile.IMG_1188.jpg
  4. Then in addition to kitchen waste and garden discards, I pick up paper bags of leaves from the neighborhood — perhaps 35 or 40 and stack them on the pile. The pile should be in a shady area, and exposed to air.


  5. By November 15, we’re in business. To encourage a high temperature (required for the breakdown of biodegradable contents), I add water so as to make the pile spongy and sometimes add nitrogen such as urea. Five rain barrels supply more than enough water to keep the pile damp.IMG_1196.jpg
  6. I don’t turn the pile until spring, but then I go to work.IMG_1189.jpg
  7. I’m always amazed at what happens from March 31 until June 30. While the surface of the pile seems not to have changed much, lots has occurred inside the pile. Some is even ready to harvest, although the contents need screening because some of the content hasn’t decomposed as yet. I made a screen to lay over the wheelbarrow. A tub by the screen receives materials that don’t go through the screen. I throw sticks and stones and plastic and labels and pencils and marbles and even a small garden tool into a garbage can.IMG_1184.jpg
  8. As summer progresses the pile gets finer and finer. What happens to the finished compost? It goes onto the garden and some of it to neighbors.IMG_1190.jpg
  9. Today I harvested three loads. On the far side where new stuff is being thrown, a sweet potato pushed up a little flower to say thank you.IMG_1183.jpg




In my ’80s

August 30, 2019

A friend and former student of mine entered these two sentences in her Facebook post.

Despite my best efforts I got nothing accomplished today. Can I get a “do over”?

That post provides a provocation for my blog today. No, I’m not about to criticize my friend’s concise statement. I do not think it amiss. However I invite you to read me, but only if you continue to the very end. OK?

I decided to do a somewhat careful notation of my activities today (except bathroom visits). 

  • got up at 8
  • made coffee, ate a protein bar and blueberries
  • browsed Indianapolis Star, New York Times and Google News
  • walked Rudy around the block, fed the fish, took a couple of photos
  • said hi to two neighbors
  • posted a Facebook photo and caption
  • e-mailed my brother
  • listened to Brahms Violin Concerto
  • e-mailed a grandson about available Strad magazines
  • continued writing a letter to a friend in Canada
  • listened to Brendal playing Mozart
  • made a grooming appointment for Rudy
  • ate stew, a salad and banana for lunch
  • walked to my son’s house (to deliver a computer cord), took several photos
  • completed an evaluation of a med office call
  • talked 15 minutes with Jim about Magic Jack phone service
  • gave Rudy half an allergy pill
  • continued research of Scotland tour services
  • stretched back for a quick nap
  • read several articles in the Smithsonian
  • showed Jim our internet and phone hooku
  • lit a fire in our patio cauldron, grabbed pretzels and a beer, waited, watched and wondered
  • set a date for a prescribed sleep study
  • caught one hour of evening news
  • ate a bowl of fresh fruit, nuts and yogurt
  • checked Facebook, e-mail, and Google news
  • came to work on this blog

What questions might I ask about the list?

Did I do the right activities? Did I do what I wanted to do? Did I do stuff well? Did I accomplish anything? Did anyone benefit from my day of activities? Did the activities injure anyone? Would I like a “do over? Et alia.

Might I shift the questions from the sense of doing to a sense of being?

Was I authentically me today? Did I live my personality, my talents, my values? Was I open to learning? Did I maintain a regard for those I met? Could I retain a sense of stewardship of resources and processes? Did I on occasion consciously own my role as a human being living for a short spell on a planet having a limited tenure? In all that I was, today, did I connect with what is bigger than I am?

In my opinion, an evaluation of one’s day benefits from a merging of these two senses — one of them focussed on doing and the other honed on being. Did I have a good day today? Do I now wish for “do overs”? Do I now wish for a deeper awareness of my being? 

Hey, it was a fun day of doing and a thoughtful day of being.

In my ’80s

August 29, 2018

Shakespeare, for me, is difficult reading. My excuses don’t excuse me but I can at least share them with you. (1) An opening page lists the actors by name but I can’t picture them. When the script names an actor I don’t have a face or voice to associate with the name. (2) Occasionally scenes change markedly without my knowing the intended shift geographically or dramatically. (3) King James English can be a big challenge. 

Nonetheless, when Joy and I paid big bucks to see a September rendition of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” in Stratford, Ontario, I knew that I would make good effort to understand beforehand what we would be seeing.

From Amazon I bought a Signet Classic Coriolanus, first published in 1966.  I read it. Like many classic dramas, it comes in five acts, more than enough to fill three hours on stage. My reading took much longer. I got the gist of it, thanks in part to program notes for “Coriolanus” presented by  Indianapolis Shakespeare Company. 

In the tribal world of the play, Rome is threatened by outside forces, and the people, out of fear, rely on a strong man, Caius Martius Coriolanus, to save them. But his ferocity as a warrior comes at a price more dangerous than any invading army.”

I got it … basically. But then Signet Classic comes to my aid with commentaries and most important, a part of Plutarch’s “The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans” first published in 1579 and here translated by Sir Thomas North..

Confession: throughout years of teaching Composition and World Literature at Goshen College, I heard the name Plutarch but never consulted his work. I perked up because Shakespeare is now believed to have based his Coriolanus on Plutarch’s Coriolanus. The print in this translation was small; nonetheless in a paragraph or so, I was hooked and remarkably informed. Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” immediate takes on a richness and significance I missed in my reading the play.

In writing history instead of a stage play, Plutarch could present a larger scene and show the reasons for the development of political crisis. Coriolanus didn’t appear ex nihilo onto the scene but is shown to be a particular child growing into a particular military figure. In the following paragraph Coriolanus is identified by his family name Martius.

But Martius, being more inclined to the wars than any other gentleman of his time, began from his childhood to give himself to handle weapons, and daily did exercise himself therein; and he esteemed outward armor to no purpose, unless one were naturally armed within. Moreover he did so exercise his body to hardness and all kind of activity, that he was very swift in running, strong in wrestling, and mighty in griping, so that no man could ever cast him. Insomuch as those that would try masteries with him for strength and nimbleness would say when they were overcome, that all was by reason of his natural strength and hardness of ward, that never yielded to any pain or toil he took upon himself.” (160)

I could understand better the play’s very first scene where commoners are demanding corn after Plutarch explained the political caste system that separated the common people from the Senate, supported by the wealthy. A consulship served the Senate. 

And most importantly, Coriolanus’ obstinacy, his terrifying single-minded violence, his unwillingness to humble himself — all of these characteristics revealed in his relationship with the common people and even the Senate, made it believable that he would turn against his own people.

These days, dramatic artists see the contemporary tone of this work. “The play is remarkable and important at this moment in time because, among other things, it is a cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy.” (Program notes, Indianapolis Shakespeare Company. I predict that “Coriolanus” will be mounted on many stages, professional, civic and academic in this upcoming year. 

In my ’80s

August 28, 2018

This past week Richard Rohr wrote about Taoism and Buddhism. He quoted Which Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk.

The appellation “Buddha” comes from the root of the verb budh—which means to wake up, to understand, to know what is happening in a very deep way. In knowing, understanding, and waking up to reality, there is mindfulness, because mindfulness means seeing and knowing what is happening.

Perhaps because I frequently am scatter-brained — the absent-minded professor — I have become aware of the camera’s “ability” to help me to pay attention. Had I not been carrying a camera, I might have missed the intricate spider web or the shimmering reflections on Lye Creek. I might have walked past the butterfly bushes and, god forbid, missed the dramatic clouds that ushered in a new weather pattern.

Rohr and others — Spong, for example, or Marilynne Robinson — suggest that mindfulness, at its deepest levels, requires not only paying attention to one’s environment but also to waking up to spiritual realities.

I find gratification in reading (or hearing) about mindfulness when the author does not give exceptional status to any one religious tradition. There are deeply spiritual persons in all lands despite the willingness of many “believers” to accept people of other persuasions. I myself feel most comfortable in boundary-less spiritual expanses.

Today (I am posting this blog in the morning) I intend to work for an hour or so in the office, tidy up the shop, and if the temp does’t go too high, to take a walk at Fort Ben. There will be other chores — taking the recyclables to the curb, feeding the birds and the fish, walking Rudy around the block. Surely I will meet people, neighbors in particular. I will read the newspaper and surely something from a magazine or book. But I don’t want any of this activity to draw me away from a mindfulness that helps me to see and know, given my human limitations, what is happening in this place, in this moment of infinity. I don’t want to get so involved in doing that I lose love and compassion. I don’t want to just exist.

In my ’80s

 August  27, 2017

Months ago a member of the writer’s group asked me to participate in a special Sunday school August feature at Shalom. Each of the adult classes would combine as one; the motif for the four Sundays would be immigration and “the other.” Would I, on the final Sunday, give a personal statement, more precisely personal stories about “me and the other”? That topic along with the theory of dyads, entered into many of my classes at Goshen having to do with communication theory. I was especially informed by Theodore Newcomb’s AtoBreX paradigm. My interest moved from theory to personal relationships, and more specifically the dynamic of my “coorientation” with the “other,” not only the “other” for whom I felt strong attraction, but also the “other” who repulsed me. So I said yes to Martha.  

Because I was slated to be in the fourth Sunday session, I attended two of the earlier ones. The second Sunday was a stunner. Three people in the Shalom congregation have been immigrants, one with family status still unsettled. They simply presented their stories … and we wept. The closer I got to the fourth Sunday (yesterday) the more I wondered why I accepted Martha’s invitation. Too late to back out, I prepared carefully, setting down on paper examples of me/other encounters, me/other relationships. Dozens of them. Scores of them. Some encounters that I had handled in exemplary fashion, others that I bungled so bad that it would take nerve to admit them. Yesterday I was plenty anxious, ditto this morning, but the Sunday school hour came and I told stories.

Here is one that I wrote years ago and then yesterday delivered in oral form.


       Perhaps I remember what people told me. But I think I remember the day and the excited talk in church: Sunday, December 7. Pearl Harbor. But in general, when I was a child of four and five, my map did not include Japan, Leningrad, or Auswitz. My world was defined largely by what I could see, and what I saw was mainly Housman’s beautiful farm.

Daddy told people, when they asked, that he was a “hired man” for Ricardo Housman, the potato grower. I was proud of that, not just because he earned $20 a week, but also because Housman’s house was made of stone and the barn had pillars painted on it. The field by the barn was 40 acres, and on the other side of the lane the field was even bigger. Mr. Housman had a tractor trailer truck that Floyd Yoder drove; it said in big letters STEHMAN & HOUSMAN – POTATOES.

Compared with Daddy, Mr. Housman was rich. He wore white shoes, and smoked a cigar in his wood paneled office in the barn. Long ago he was a baseball pitcher, in “semi pro”.

Daddy was an ordinary person like Mother and us children, but he worked for a famous and powerful potato grower. When the Hess uncles sat on the front porch one Sunday – all of them and the uncles who married papa’s sisters – I hoped that as they looked across the clean 40-acre potato field toward Housman’s barn and house that Daddy would remind them that he was hired man for Housman.

From our little house by the end of Housman’s lane, we could watch Daddy at work in the potatoes. He told us words such as Cobbler and Katahdin. In spring the two-row planter clicked fertilizer and potato pieces into a row that it then hilled over. Six weeks later blossoms made bouquets by the acre. And the most exciting time for me was at the end of the season. We awakened to the clattering of the potato digger early in the morning, as it crawled like a mole, its nose in the ground, lifting up potatoes that danced in delight across the machine’s chains and then jumped down onto the ground.

Usually Housman hired people from Manheim and East Petersburg to pick up and bag the potatoes (at 10 cents a bushel). And one day – how frightening – Daddy said Housman “fired” a picker. I thought it meant a burning. 

On a year of a particularly heavy crop – during the early 40s – Daddy said one evening that Housman had contracted for German prisoners to do the job. Housman thought it made sense financially. Daddy, for reasons unknown to me then, shook his head. 

German prisoners. The words made no sense to me, excepting that on the way to Grampa and Gramma Hess’ house, we drove on East King Street in Lancaster, past a high stone wall that my parents said was a jail for prisoners. German prisoners, they now explained, were different — prisoners of war. Although Daddy and Mother prayed about the fighting in Europe, war was merely a concept, not a reality. Yes, convoys from the military base at Indiantown Gap passed our house on Colebrook Road, long lines of green trucks with men wearing green helmets and green suits. Occasionally sirens signaled an air raid practice. Mervin said that at school the children had to sit under their desks during the raids. War also meant that a sticker on the back window of the car indicated how much gasoline we could buy at the pump in Landisville. The war was in Europe, far away. Somehow, prisoners from there would now work in our fields.

The day came and so did the prisoners. I felt uneasiness in our house. The prisoners were to come from a camp north of Reading so we watched Colebrook Road toward Henry Stauffer’s barn and Sporting Hill.

They came, slowly, in a tractor trailer bus, painted green like the army trucks. A smaller army truck led them, a small army truck followed them. Near Housman’s lane, very close to our house, the bus stopped. A few men emerged, perhaps the driver, studied the entrance by the pillars, and decided the bus couldn’t make so sharp a turn. So, on a signal, several guards with guns on their shoulders stepped down from the bus. I saw it from a window in our house. Then the prisoners got off and began walking in the lane toward Housman’s barn. They looked just like people. They were tall, thin, and walked in lines, not like the potato pickers from Manheim who dragged themselves to work.

I could see it clearly. “Mother, why do those men carry guns?”

There was no answer from Mother who stood behind the curtain of another window. I looked over, and saw her face, wet with tears.

That evening Daddy told stories about the prisoners. He said that they spoke German. They had blond hair. They were kind. They had pictures in their pockets of their families back in Germany. 

One day Mervin, Erma and I were allowed to go to Housmans to the potato grading room. I thought we were going to see the prisoners, but when we got there, the prisoners came to see us. They repeated our names, and lifted us up, and held us close, and talked German in voices like friendly fathers.

Then, the guards of a sudden began to run around, calling excitedly for one of the prisoners whom they couldn’t find. Immediately Daddy left the barn to hunt. I knew he was afraid that the guards would think that one of the prisoners had escaped. Daddy found the prisoner lying on the grass of the barn hill.

We children returned to our house. I learned something that never would leave me. Daddy and Mother thought the German prisoners were their brothers. They explained to us that war was wrong and that we always should love our enemies. That’s why Daddy and Mother loved the German prisoners.

In my ’80s

August 25, 2018

Today at the widely known “Taste of Montgomery,” I experienced my limits. Lali was there, of course, with customer-pleasing entrees. And as usual, I felt huge pride every time people addressed her enthusiastically by name. No doubt — she is a widely known chef and her company, The Juniper Spoon, is familiar to many Hoosiers.

But I didn’t function well. Everything was fast. Each entree was made of multiple ingredients combined on the spot. I couldn’t keep the entrees separate from each other; I couldn’t remember what all went with each entree. I cut tomatoes and also watched over the oven that cooked the corn. But even there, I felt a bit unnerved by the pace and the need for perfectly browned ears. 

Nobody goaded me. Nobody complained. I just knew that this 80 year old was not suited for high precision culinary artistry.

Lali, setting up The Juniper Spoon tent
at “Taste of Montgomery.”. 


I know my place — taking care of the composting at The Juniper Spoon kitchen.

In my ’80s

August 24, 2018

“Pop Pop, you are 80 years old. What is your purpose in life? Over your span of years did your purpose change? How did the change in purpose affect other things?”


Grandson, please accept what I write as an assemblage of thoughts and feelings, not a coherent intellectual exposition that will answer your profound questions. Nor am I able to say much about myself and my purpose(s). Perhaps later. Again, what follows is a humble rumination on your questions.

A wee baby, just born. What is its purpose? Nothing other than to be. An old man, quite beyond retirement age — what is his purpose? The same as the newborn — to be.

To be.

Now, as an 80 year old, I ponder what it means to be. 

  • to be peace
  • to be hope
  • to be kindness
  • to be joy
  • to be generosity
  • to be thoughtfulness
  • to be compassion

Not adjectives but nowns. The list is encyclopedic, extending to the outer reaches of being in human form. 

The Old Testament includes a story in which a bush represents the voice of God: “I am that I am.”  That sentence may be useful for all of us in defining who we are and what our purpose is.  I am that I am.

A crucial distinction must be made. To be is quite different from to do.  People typically purpose to live moral lives, to do what is right, to live responsibly, to work diligently, to be creative, to be meaningfully occupied. But all of these items remain apart from to be.

A personal story. I was what most teachers would say diligent, motivated, a good student. I went to elementary school and high school and college and university and then several additional universities. I earned diplomas and degrees. And then I was hired to be a professor in a liberal arts college. Upon arriving on campus, it didn’t take long to sense who were the top-notch profs. That’s just the way college campuses are. Profs and their reputations aren’t private. So as a new prof I studied the aces and for a period of time tried to imitate them. Then one day — I remember it clearly — I was about to enter a classroom when a great big thought came to me. Not a thought, really, but a grace sent from beyond the heavens. “Dan, don’t try to mimic the others. Don’t even try to do a perfect job. Just be you.” That moment changed my life as a prof. 

To be.

I wish that I could report that I have successfully balanced the will to be and the temptation to do. I haven’t. For much of my life the motivating purpose writ big on my brain’s screen pertained to productivity — professionally to teaching, to speaking, to writing, to consulting; domestically to raising a family, paying the bills, doing house chores, etc. Only in better moments — often through meditation and significant spiritual experience — could I remember the priority to be.

To be sure, we carry the responsibility to use our talents which typically require years of training. We carry the obligation to develop discipline in thought and action. We carry the duties of citizenship and the common weal. But any alert and sensitive person of accomplishment can tell you which of their gifted colleagues lives with the overriding purpose to be.

Now my so-called productive years are over. Quite often people, well-meaning people, ask “So what do you do?” Honestly, it’s an unfortunate questions that I hope to wean myself from asking. The question implies that the happy senior is busy doing things. This evening, after posting this blog, I want simply to be. To extend this day of being. I will go to bed before long. If I awaken to a new morning, then again I am that I am.