The Garden Rebels

Daily writing prompt
What things give you energy?

Yesterday was the first day of Autumn. The overgrown section of the garden calls out to me. It’s time to reconquer the wild. There is an impenetrable dome of vegetation in the front side garden that even the dog refuses to venture into. I also have an enormous amount of pruning to do. Apple trees gone rogue, a pear tree that has resisted control. And squash vines that stubbornly refused to set fruit in the damp wetness of summer but have grown vast and lanky. I have had it with the grapes; the bird’s protests shall go unheard. I’m cutting them down!

I’ve posted a few times this summer about my new plans for the garden: elevated beds, very strictly limited. I want an easy-to-control garden with no annual struggle with breakaway sections declaring outlaw rule. The initial beds I have constructed seem to fit the bill. Two more will be constructed in the spring, and I shall resist the temptation to throw in a few more plants at random; that never seems to end well.

It is always the same. Great energy and commitment in April, a busy May, and then a relaxing June enjoying the garden’s beauty. Then comes July and August with competing commitments for family trips, work, and too-hot-to-weed days. But inevitably, come September; I wake up to the loss of control, the needed weeding, and the rebellious front side garden that always simmers with rebellion. This year, though, I have taken heed from previous years and developed a plan to reduce garden size and strictly control the wilder tendencies.

Now! Do I have the energy for all this?

And a one, and a two

Daily writing prompt
What’s your all-time favorite album?

Labels can define you. They are not you, but they can place you in time and space, give people inaccurate hunches about who you are, and put actual thought on a snooze alert. So be careful with giving away information about yourself that sticks you in a niche. Admitting that you liked your grandmother’s collection of Lawrence Welk records from the 1960s will have them continually making reference to “Champagne Music,” giggling and asking if you took accordion lessons. Even worse would be revealing the info online – you’ll be showered in junk email offering you intimate bios of Welk, deals on concert videos, and the like.

We all know that such unscientific efforts to plumb the depths of a person are doomed to failure. I prefer graphology myself. A simple sample of your writing will reveal all the characteristics needed to pigeonhole, I mean to reveal a person’s most intimate traits.

Here, let’s try an experiment. Just sign on this line and here where it needs a date. No, no need to fill in the amount line. Of course not! What sort of cad do you think I am…I wouldn’t dream of cashing your blank check. It’s just an experiment in graphology!

And don’t worry; your secret is safe with me. No one shall ever know of your questionable taste in music. Trust me.

Holiday For Pets

Daily writing prompt
How do you celebrate holidays?

Don’t ask people how the holidays are celebrated in their homes; ask the pets. The cat and dog will fill you in on the real scoop. How many turkey scraps do they get after a Thanksgiving meal, whether they get chased away from the tree at Christmas, and do Easter baskets have anything that cats and dogs can safely eat? Now, that’s just some of the holidays. I understand there is a closed Facebook group for pets of many nationalities and traditions to compare cross-culturally. But my pets have told me to log in and go away for an hour.

The Carreras pets have assured my wife and me that Thanksgiving and Christmas at our house are absolutely Killer. The cat’s only complaint is that we tend to put the little balls and bells up too high. The dog prefers a walkway around the tree to check out gifts more easily. A more commodious arrangement for his larger size, he’s not built on the same scale as kitty is, after all!

Our cumulative ranking is a solid 3.9 out of four points. We lost points for last year’s lousy performance on Birthday dinners but did pick up a few for a great Memorial Day cookout. That’s how it goes: up a bit, down a bit.

As arbiters of Quality, our cats and dogs consider themselves consummate judges. After all, one must keep up with what Tony’s family does, and lord knows Cooper and Honey are always watching to see if the Carreras traditions slip. 

Our cat always quotes Aristotle, “Quality is not an act. It is a habit.”

Talk Like a Pirate Day – Davy Jones Salvage

Today is National Talk Like a Pirate Day. In honor of it, I’ve decided to break a fifty-year silence. This is no fairy tale or folly; I was there when it happened. So listen up!

In the hurricane that whipped up the coast in early October, the schooner Periwinkle had gotten caught threading the eye of the Needles, the narrow passage between the reefs called the Widows. When the tidal surge went out, she’d grounded; when it returned, she’d swamped and gone down. The Periwinkle was not the first to attempt threading the Needles, only the most recent to fail. Threading the eye of the Needles was a puzzle best left to the experienced, and the skipper of the Periwinkle had refused the advice that might have saved his boat: stay clear.

Insurance declared a total loss, and no one appeared interested in salvaging the boat. But she had been well-built by a famous Boothbay builder, and her fittings had been the finest money could provide.

My father-in-law, the Cap’n, had grown up in these waters and knew every tidal nook and cranny. He knew precisely where the Periwinkle went down and how deep she rested. He estimated which spring tide the hull should be awash at. To be there at the right time with pumps, one might get Periwinkle afloat and, on the tides, out through the needles. Once salvaged, the Cap’n’s boat-building friends could help him turn a profit off the hull and fittings.

The Cap’n could handle seamanship, and I could handle the brawn. Lyman, his brother, could bring his lobster boat to help, but where would he get the engineering skill needed to pull the stunt off? So that evening after dinner, I found myself calling New York and trying to persuade my father, a Merchant Marine engineer, to contribute his talents to the effort. But, let me say this: my father and the Cap’n did not see eye to eye on almost anything except that Bridge and Engine room would agree to disagree. But my father surprised me. He needed a vacation from my mother’s honey-do list. The opportunity to get out on the water for several days was bait enough to get him to agree, even if the bridge and engine room would have to cooperate.

On the night of the spring tide, we took Psyche, the Cap’ns ketch, and Lyman’s lobster boat and slipped unnoticed from the cove. We made the Widows just before dawn and prepared our equipment. To pull this off, the ketch and the lobster boat stood off in deeper water while we readied the gear. If we refloated Periwinkle, the ketch, under power, and the lobster boat would pull her free. 

As Periwinkle emerged from the tide, my father and I arranged the pumps, started the engines, and prayed that the hull had not been pierced.

Luck was with us, and the plan succeeded; by the turn of the tide, we were ready to maneuver Periwinkle through the eye of the Needles. 

Up to this point, everything had gone as planned. I was brewing a pot of coffee below, but I heard the Cap’n tell my father, “Nick, this could be trouble.” My father used a single two-syllable Spanish obscenity in reply. I left the coffee and ran on deck to see a wreck of an old trawler heaving towards us through the swell. A red-bearded giant wearing fisherman’s half-boots stood in the bow with belaying pins stuck in the tops. Behind him stood the foulest assortment of dreck-ridden seaman that graced the worst harborside stew we had ever seen. No, they were worse. I’d have been surprised if there was a single intact tooth in the bunch. But the big red-bearded lout had a mouth full that a shark would have been proud of.

As they came alongside, Red thundered, ” Jones salvage here. Thanks be, and Ye’ll be releasin’ the tow now. Appreciate your help and such, but ‘yer best be on about gettin’ home.”

My Dad and the Cap’n were taking in Red and his crew. There were assorted belaying pins and old cutlasses for weapons. This beat out our meager collection of rigging knives and a signal gun.

The big guy with the shark teeth had to be Davy Jones himself. As he saw the expressions on our faces, his grin grew even wider. “Now, hand her over, and there’ll be no trouble. We’ll even throw over a demi-john of “Kill Devil Rum” to ease the pain.” His crew spat tobacco juice and swilled something from open bottles. Having read up recently on the lore of Davy for a paper on sea lore, I hollered, “We demand a trial by the Prize Court of Neptunas Rex!” Silence ruled on the decks of boat boats. But Davy, looking even fiercer than before, laughed loudly and shouted back, “Agreed!” At about that point, Lyman, the Cap’n, and my father looked at me in horror. “Do you know what you’ve done, you ninny?” the Cap’n asked? “if we lose, our boats and possessions will go to Davy.” Before more could be said, Davy asked which venue I preferred for the trial. I responded that the closest Blue Anchor Tavern franchise would do. So we were off to Portland’s Old Port.

This was in the days before they cleaned up the Old Port and tarted it up with bistros, fancy bars, and such. It was rough, dirty, and dangerous. The Blue Anchor had a certain “reputation”. I had done a good bit of “fieldwork” there and knew the lay of the land. So I hollered across to Davy. “midnight till dawn, Kaile, hornpipe, and Greek line dances. Four bells of the morning watch winner will take all: belaying pins, cutlasses, the kill devil rum, your trawler, and whatever you wear. The curses from the other boat were fierce.

Davy knew the briny deep, but I knew the Saturday night Kaile, hornpipe, and line dance competition at the Blue Anchor. As we walked in all I had to do was mention “fresh fish” to Harry, the barkeep, and watch the flashing smile.

The Blue Anchor was built on the site of a famous massacre in Portland, and good report had it that the dead rose on the spring tide to dance with the living. Well, that night, we’d find out.

The crowd quickly discovered it was an early Halloween when Davy and his crowd filtered in. Cocked hats, worn and soiled velvet knee breeches, and slashed sleeve coats hadn’t been seen in these parts for centuries. As midnight approached, both teams lined up on opposite sides of the dance floor. About a dozen of my sometimes drinking buddies lined up with me, my father, and the Cap’n. Davy’s team had not laid off the kill devil rum and looked to be in bad shape to start. But they probably weren’t what we usually call living, so it didn’t matter.

At midnight precisely, the house band started playing wild, upbeat kaile music. The ancient building seemed to rock on its foundations with the dance steps, twirls, and eager movements. There was a palpable shift to hornpipe music at four bells of the Middle watch ( two AM). Dust began falling from the old rafters as twenty-four dancers sang and danced the hornpipe as energetically as possible. But soon, there seemed to be additional dancers in early 19th-century attire; Davy’s crew cried foul; we’d recruited spirits from the land to dance with us.

At the eighth bell of the middle, the pace again picked up as we whirled and stepped into Greek dances. It was now the beginning of the morning watch, and we only had a few hours to go. Cries of Opa! were coming from our team as they made complex steps that the drunken sailors of Davy’s band could not complete. Near the very end of the dance, Davy and his band wound up in a collapsed pile, with a fight breaking out as individual pirates struggled out of the pile.

Harry blew a bosun’s whistle at four bells of the watch and declared us winners. It came not a moment too soon for my Dad and the Cap’n, who promptly collapsed. Davy’s men disagreeably dragged themselves from the sizeable unsorted pile they had fallen into. The last call came, and after that parting glass, we all piled out to divide the spoils.

The take was enough to fund my next two years of tuition, repair the Cap’ns ketch, get Lyman a new lobster boat, and pay the considerable tab due to the Blue Anchor. In exchange for a promise not to revenge himself on us, we allowed Davy and the crew to depart in their skivys and take the trawler. We sold the clothes to a California movie props house. You probably have seen most of the stuff in Pirates of the Caribbean and other Pirate movies. 

The Periwinkle, you know the reason we went through all this happy huhah, was declared a total loss. We lost money on her salvage.

A day after our great escapade, the Blue Anchor shuddered and collapsed. We all thought it was due to the strain on its ancient structure caused by all that dancing. The new one they built in the tarted-up new Old Port is too sanitized for me. But on the back wall is a photo I am told was taken the night of the great Kaile, Hornpipe, and Greek dancing contest. It’s hard to tell who is who except for the antique clothing on some.

So today is National Talk Like A Pirate Day, and this is my story, and I’m stickin’ to it. ARRR!!!


Daily writing prompt
Share a lesson you wish you had learned earlier in life.

Most of us go through life too busy to analyze or catalog everything we know. I firmly believe that the average person knows more than they think; they are just too complacent to rummage around, think things over, and realize that the solutions to many of their problems lay in simple things they knew all along. Our daily haste in life compounds this into a major issue.

BS, you say? Well, let’s look at one of the most basic- the seven P’s. Most of you have heard it or something similar: Prior, Proper, Preparation, Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Yet many would instead do the magical thinking thing a la “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall” or seek visions or esoteric advice from a YouTube influencer.

I have done more than my fair share of botching things. The other week, I was in a hurry and botched the sharpening of a carving knife. What! a professional carver! Botch something so basic? Yes. I could hear the reprimands of mentors softly asking, “Didn’t we teach you better, Lou?” I backtracked and corrected my errors and wound up with a sharp knife. But, as is the case often when we have to undo what we have already done incorrectly, it was a lot more work.

So it can seem a radical concept to think before doing. I certainly knew, but I didn’t access what I already knew in a rush.

Haste makes waste, but it also makes us seem stupid.


Daily writing prompt
What are your favorite types of foods?

I struggle to remember when rice was not on the dinner table at our home. Its absence would have been exceptional; everyone seated for dinner and no rice? The only thing that would have made it worse was no olive oil to put on the rice. Like many kids, I hated what was served routinely. Then, when I grew up, left the family home, and found out what others routinely put on their table, I started appreciating the rice and beans, rice and chile, and just rice with olive oil. But I’m not discriminatory about other traditions. Growing up in New York City and with a Hungarian Grandmother, I got exposed to everything on offer: German, Chinese/Cuban, Italian, multiple Jewish traditions, and many others.

Foodways are complex and vary from family to family and place to place. My preference for food grew beyond my family’s when I came to coastal New England and learned to love a good fish chowder (or cod cheeks ), preferably served with fresh fries). Visiting my favorite chowder house can banish the blahs and alleviate mild depression – ahh, a good halibut stew cooked in cream and sherry. Or a baked finan haddie!

If put on the spot for what my traditions are, I’ll have to admit that I am a bi-traditional Spanish and Yankee cuisine sort of guy. There is nothing inconsistent in the mixing of the two.

The truth is I have straightforward tastes; they just belong to multiple traditions.

Walk, don’t run.

Daily writing prompt
How often do you walk or run?

Walk, don’t run, is a safety statement in many workplaces. Safety and compliance officers could write entire treatises on the danger of workplace running. Yet many seem indifferent to the widely posted warnings and have severe injuries. It’s also strange because so many who can’t seem to change their behavior about not running in the workplace don’t seem to enjoy running as a leisure activity.

When working as a supervisor at a transportation company, I always cautioned people not to run. The floor could be covered with freight and packages, and catching a foot, tripping, and going down hard was incredibly easy. 

People need regular reminders about safe behavior. The company I worked for had a regular pre-work communication time where we discussed safety issues. Like me, most of the sups ended it with a daily safety tip. People will get hurt on the job, but you can reduce the frequency and severity by education and training.

When I taught television and video production to students and also when I taught woodcarving, every class was preceded by a safety talk and tip. 

There is a lot of truth in the saying, “Safety is a habit.” While working at carving in the shop, I don’t tend to run.

The Boss?

Daily writing prompt
Do you see yourself as a leader?

You must understand the difference between being a boss and a leader. Bosses command strictly regimented tasks; leaders guide creative teams in complex and perhaps uncertain tasks. Leaders guide in discovery.

Massage therapy, Subtle influence, Selective pressure, and management by walking around – these have been my tools for leadership. Stronger ones are in the toolbox if I need to resort to them: scolding, reprimands, and even firing. But I’m not eager to saturate the air with yells, curses, and innuendos. So it’s not like I’m a reluctant leader, just that I prefer to guide rather than rule; that could even be my slogan. 

It helps that most of my work has been in cultural areas where you may not initially know the answers and needed approaches. You and the team need to research and explore. You can’t just can’t unthinkingly start giving orders.

When I successfully landed my first job as a practicing anthropologist, I was surprised that it came with a small staff. My leadership skills were non-existent, but I knew one thing – I had problems with authoritarian leaders and did not want to be the hypocrite who emulated what he despised. Luckily, the staff was happy to engage in the sort of new adventures I could dream up. The easygoing style worked well as we developed community advisory boards for some of the grants and projects we created. The ” you go where I tell you when I tell you” leadership style would have gotten us nowhere and would have alienated the communities I needed to work with.

A few things I’ve learned. The leader needs to be prepared, the leader needs to be willing to do whatever the other teammates do if required, and the leader must support his teammates. The last means teaching what is expected, developing their skills, and correcting inappropriate behavior before it threatens the team and its mission.

Wait! You say maybe that’s OK if you are leading professionals. Sorry, after leaving government work, I worked at UPS and led Teamsters. The same principles apply. As is stated in the “Contract,” we treat each other with dignity and respect. The same skill set is used in different places.

So, in answer to that question, am I a leader? Yes, just don’t ask me to be the boss. I have other things I prefer to be doing.


Daily writing prompt
What’s your favorite word?

I am inconstant. Depending upon the time of day or my activity, I find that the song playing as background music in my head has changed. Tom Petty’s songs seemed to play a lot yesterday “…Oh, no I won’t back down…” My favorite word changes, too. I have a vault of favorites, but wood rates very highly daily. The other day, I stopped into a local sawyer in the town where I work and found that they had some lovely wood. 

I resisted the Spanish cedar and the gorgeous walnut. But I was shamelessly ambushed by a plank of wide cherry. Eleven and a half inches wide. It’s just perfect for some lovely bowls. My resolve to resist purchases proved flimsy, and thirteen feet of this sensual, lustrous, irresistible wood found its way into my car’s trunk before I knew it.

I’ll be carving bowls as soon as I finish cleaning up the flooded cellar.

All in all, I am proud of myself. I only bought the cherry. But I can hear the cedar and walnut whispering to me at night. Wood is not only my favorite thing and word. When it starts sending songs my way, begging me to buy it and take it home…it’s my favorite obsession. 

My Precious!

Swamping Out

Daily writing prompt
What are you doing this evening?

I decided to use a corner of my greenhouse for carving years ago. I wanted a pleasant place to work. My basement shop was dank and dark. Well, like the camel, I gradually nosed further and further into the space. At first, in an unplanned ad hoc fashion, just a single box of tools and one small work surface. But the periodic wetness of the basement dowsed my creative fire after pumping out after a winter storm. More tools were moved into the greenhouse for the sake of getting work done and to avoid rust.

Around ten years ago, our cat, Xenia, decided that the new workshop was a suitable location for her to supervise father. The imprimatur was added, and the greenhouse became the greenhouse/workshop. After all, as the feline breadwinner, so to speak, she needed a cozy base of operations, and her father was encouraged to place a cozy beddy on a shelf for her. 

The basement shop became where the large, durable stuff was kept. The things too big for the greenhouse – the large bandsaw and table saw, such like that. The key is durable.

In October, we’ll be in our house for twenty-five years and have dealt with what we considered the typical basement issues of an old house. You may have heard about the floods in our towns the other night. I was lucky. The sinkhole opened up a few blocks away, not near my house. But tonight, I will continue the cleanup of the basement, or as we say around here, “I’ll swamp it out”.

A floating freezer does not compare to the dumpster I saw floating in a parking lot as I tried to get home, but it was also something I’d never seen. So, having been a sailor, I responded as such when a drier friend asked me how much water was on the road at the base of the hill. Channeling my inner Yankee, I told him I could have launched a good-sized one- design sloop and sailed close hauled to the other side of town. 

Where the hell are my high-top rubber boots?!

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