bad coffee

What do you complain about the most?

Griping about things is part of being a sailor. I discovered this from my father, a Merchant Marine engineer, and had it confirmed while in the Navy. Griping as an art form was re-affirmed to me while working in the marine trades as a carver and catch as can boatyard worker.
Griping is not necessarily pejorative of other people. We don’t just complain about the bosun, the carpenter, the skipper, or the boat owner. We complain about the food, weather, and workloads. But, of course, a cherished area of complaint is coffee. We can complain about coffee until the third pot of the day is downed, and the thought of another cup will make us bilious.

OK, I’ll say it – take any random sampling of castaway sailors on a desert island with nothing to eat but coconuts, and their biggest complaint will be the lack of coffee. When they get tired of griping about no coffee, they’ll move on to the lousy coffee they’ve had. After exhausting that, they’ll move on to bad chow, the rotten bunks they had to sleep in, the worst liberty ports they visited, and then the miseries of being at sea in heavy weather.
Regardless of political orientation, they’ll rage on all evening about this stuff until they are exhausted and sleep. Then, the lack of coffee will start the day rolling in the morning.

I hate to side with the officer class, having worked for a living myself, but the continual griping is why it’s crucial to keep sailors of any sort busy. Let them sit around and get bored, and the complaints start.
Maybe that is the reason for all the rotten coffee? Give the apes something to gripe about that’s safe.
Rats! I make my own coffee. It’s unfair that I can only complain to myself.

Fakes

I slouch around in loose dock pants, a slouchy beret, or a leather seaman’s cap. No one goes to a museum store to buy replicas of my gear!
So you wonder why my usual demur, sometimes inscrutable style of writing has become agitated? It’s the bloody New York Times.

The Times had an article on people buying replicas of famous artists’ gear. Want to look like Warhol – there’s a platinum wig. You can get Picasso’s shirt if it’s your particular kink. Klimt’s painting smock is also available. They suggest that it’s no longer enough to buy notecards with art reproductions or wear T-shirts with artists peering out at the world. Now you can dress just like the artist. You can be an avatar of Pablo or Gustav.

They have all the panache but none of the angst of trying to create, no sitting there looking for motivation, struggling with technique, and worried about if it will sell.

It’s the ultimate in an already fake society. You can’t or won’t try to create, but you’ll fake it till you make it.

Perfection, not in a day

January is my month to discover and prototype new things. The shop and the rest of life are slow, so taking advantage of this to do something that you may be too busy for otherwise is a good use of the time. But the creation process does not happen in a blinding flash of light with celestial trumpets blaring. Instead, things gradually fall into place, sometimes with a bit of annoyance and pain. 

It helps to have a process. Some of the methods and strategies I use came out of a background in Japanese Martial Arts. As a teenage Judo student, I was taught to examine my technique and progress and strive towards gradual improvements. Unlike cinematic martial arts, students often don’t have spontaneous inspirations or become black belts in a thirty-second montage. Instead, progress is made through good practice and incremental conscious work. Many businesses have heard of this as Kaizen, which has been at the root of many quality improvement techniques.

As I mentioned, I use January and February to investigate and create things I haven’t mastered or want to make. Right out front, I’ll tell you that carvers don’t bury the things that don’t work out. We either keep them around to learn from or use them to heat the house.

The real glaring failures feed the woodstove. Those with “promise” decorate the house. They are imperfect prototypes of things that I later mastered. Some examples are the curves on the little dolphin that are just a bit too chunky or the lovely portrait of the 1900-era trawler not designed with enough negative space for framing.

The prototype combs below are good examples. I set out to make some wooden combs only to discover that lots of the information available were “nuanced.” Some information was not given, some didn’t work for what I wanted, and some were bad when I tried to use it. So after research, I had to take the good information and my insights together and create some prototypes.

Prototypes are not finished products. They are functional but imperfect. Lots still need to be worked out. They say, “OK, it can be done.” Then the tough work of making it pretty and functional starts.

With regard to the combs, some things that needed working out were the wood species, grain orientation, the thickness of the comb along the spine, and the thickness of the teeth. Combs are available in various exotic kinds of wood, and some I have on stock from when I carved quarter boards and transoms for boats in teak and mahogany. But sustainability and material costs are significant issues for me. And I frequently need to apprise customers about how sustainable the products are. Luckily the species I use are both local and sustainable in New England. So my initial choices are cherry and maple. They have the strength and beauty needed.

OK, I have the basics worked out. Now, work on making it pleasing to look at and use. Perfection does not come in a day. We work at it bit by bit.

Xenia Houdini

I don’t care what my sister said. I was not being an impulsive brat! I was merely going out for a bit of exercise. No reason for mother to shriek at me!
That hound, he dropped the dime on me, ratted me out to father. Howling at the door until they came running.
Of course, it was pleasant to watch as they ran to and fro, trying to find out how I had gotten out without their noticing. That will remain my little secret. It’s so endearing seeing them flummoxed.
I’ll have to get on father to do more shoveling. That icky white stuff is soooo messy. I know my cousins in Florida don’t have to put up with the nasty stuff!

In the meantime, I’ll warm up on the heated blanket and ponder how I can precipitate more mayhem. It’s so much fun being an evil genius,

Family Traditions

Write about a few of your favorite family traditions.

Humans have a prodigious ability to create and destroy. The very concept of culture ( big C or little c) is something that we are continuously developing and eliminating. So traditions exist as a process; we continually reshape them even as we celebrate them. I’ll have to beg the reader’s forgiveness; although I no longer work as an anthropologist, I’ll never shake the orientation.
Family traditions offer a look into the processes of development and loss. In October of 2023, I’ll initiate the 50th anniversary of the Carreras family fruitcakes. Were fruitcakes a Carreras family tradition before then? Nope. And I honestly do not remember why I settled on making fruitcakes that fall fifty years ago. But every fall since I start on the family fruitcakes – which after baking, settle in for a long rum-soaked gestation before being shipped off for family eating during Christmas.

I was looking for something to replace my grandmother’s Poppyseed bread. Grandma had died years before without leaving a recipe and without taking apprentices. So her tradition, dating back generations in her family, effectively died with her.
Replace a traditional Hungarian treat with fruitcake? As a family, we tried to duplicate her recipe without luck. She had always been elusive on her secrets, a sort of “pinch of this, a pinch of that” description of the process that guaranteed it could not be duplicated. So as a family, we eventually threw in the towel on reproducing it. A family tradition lost.

That was where we were the year I first made my rum-soaked fruitcakes. The first year I only made two; one for myself and my wife and one for my parents. Things evolved. Over the years, the recipe evolved; ingredients were added, quantities changed, and the rum-soaking technique matured. Eventually, I reached about twenty cakes and distributed fruit cakes in early December to any family member who appreciated them. There is a bit of drudgery involved in making that many. but commitment is part of tradition.

At fifty years, I can look back and see how the tradition started, developed, and is being passed on. A few years ago, my oldest son apprenticed, transcribed the recipe, and can now make the cakes. I fully expect that, over time, his cakes will vary from the ones I made. That’s part of what makes traditions alive; they change and develop while staying steady parts of our expectations in life.

About seven years ago, I was able to replicate grandma’s Poppyseed bread. I now bake this for the family at Christmas time and tell the story about how she rewarded and punished family members by giving them loaves with more or less filling. After all, it’s not only the food that makes the tradition; it’s the telling of the stories surrounding it.

Families are microcosms of culture, and family traditions connect members across generations leading back to the past and forward to the future.

The Union

OK, take a look at these optics; the Peaceable Kingdom. Kitty and doggie share a minute of peace over a shared family meal. Who’d guess that most of the last nine months have been spent growling, hissing, and swatting at each other? Perhaps the tedium of enduring dispute became too much to bear? Nope, a need to get lazy humans to get their dinner to them by the contractually dictated five PM.

You see, pets in our house have a union. The union has a contract, and woe is to a mere human to violate the agreement. A contract magnifies the God-given rights of Cats, Dogs, and other creatures as defined in the contract.

However, unity is essential. It took some months for Xenia, the Local’s combined Shop Steward and Business Agent, to get the new talent to start paying dues.

So this is how it goes down around quarter to five in the afternoon. The cat strolls into the kitchen. Obstructs traffic, begins to look first at the clock on the wall, and glares at whatever human is in the kitchen. A few minutes later, the dog wanders in, sits in front of the fridge, and starts looking at the clock and then at the humans. Eventually, the thickheaded people get the idea before the grievances are filed, the wildcat strike is called, and the International Teamsters are notified. This flurry of activity typically ends before five, as soon as they are fed. After this, they saunter off to warm themselves before the woodstove, another victory by organized labor over management. I swear I can see the copy of the “CONTRACT” sticking out of the cat’s rear pocket.

It’s important to note that no human in our house speaks cat or dog language. We’d love to. It might explain how two enemies communicated and came to coordinate against management. One can only imagine the closed-door sessions in the kitchen when the house was asleep. 

Unity is powerful!

Yankee Stoicsm

January, as I say every year, is my least favorite month. I celebrate its passing. But it’s a valuable month if you make it so. Whether it’s laying plans for the garden, working on new carving initiatives, or making those long winter nights come alive by reading about topics that interest you, it passes and promotes new value. Because it’s a slow-paced month, you’re a fool not to take the opportunity to use it to recharge a bit.

I hate to say it, but if January did not exist, I might have to invent it. I shudder thinking about it in a week with three snowstorms.

So I try to keep busy this month. But there is a wayward part of me that wants to be away from January in New England – enough Yankee Stoicism already! I want to dance on the beaches! Wet my toes in the tide! Boogie under the tropical moon, and watch the flying fish off the starboard bow of my ketch. Running around my head, this entire month has been old sea chanteys. Earworms about hauling up and sailing away.

 This one in particular:

Rolling down to Old Maui, me boys

Rolling down to Old Maui

We’re homeward-bound from the Arctic ground

Rolling down to Old Maui.

Once more we sail with a northerly gale

Through the ice and wind and rain.

Them coconut fronds, them tropical lands

We soon shall see again.

Our stu’n’s’l bones/booms is carried away

What care we for that sound?

A living gale is after us,

Thank God we’re homeward bound.

Chorus

We’ll heave the lead where old Diamond Head

Looms up on old Wahu.

Our masts and yards are sheathed with ice

And our decks are hid from view.

The horrid ice of the sea-caked isles

That deck the Arctic sea

Are miles behind in the frozen wind

Since we steered for Old Maui.

A well, back to work; sigh.

Fabrication

We all tell ourselves little lies to get by. Blunt honesty sometimes doesn’t do it, and we resort to those little white lies that help us justify a gamut of conditions from I’m too lazy, to I hate it. ” I’ll do it as soon as I get home this afternoon,” for taking out the trash. In the back of your mind, you are thinking, ” maybe my son will take it out!”
Other times we need to sweep something we don’t want to face under the proverbial carpet, “Let’s not worry too much about that extra poundage. It’s just from the extra salt, and I’ll flush it out over the next two days.”

Yes, I know you are out there having a chuckle over these. But, of course, you never manufacture such finicky tissue-thin little vanities. So, no, if you are like me, you need the paintbrush and a can of paint to create the necessary procrastination to get through the day this time of year.
Around here, we are getting a two-day snowstorm. I am waiting to see if work-related activities will be canceled and searching for excuses that will allow me to go back to bed.

It’s tough when you are the boss and have no one to call when you’d like to call out sick with a stomach virus.”Hello, Lou. Look, I have this stomach bug that just won’t stop…yeah I’d like to stay home. Yeah, I know I’m in charge, but… OK, I’ll make it in somehow.”
Damn! Now I’ll have to get out and clear off the car. But wait, they canceled schools, and there is a traffic advisory. The governor has asked all non-essential vehicles to stay off the road. Am I non-essential? You bet! OK, technically, it is not a lie I’m telling myself. Instead, it’s an exaggeration of the truth!
See! work hard enough, and you don’t have to lie…just mislead.

The Inner Child

Some of the questions you get on the Word Press platform read as though a personality profile company generated them. Word Press, are you profiling us? Scraping personal data, or just loitering around until we reveal the toxicity lurking below our poses as authors?

One of today’s prompts on Word Press was, “what was your dream job as a child?” Wow! That is just a temptation for me to be absurd. I mean, please define a child. My wife thinks I am a child because I’m not particularly eager to vacuum. On the other hand, I sometimes think of myself as a child because of my seasonal fascination each January with running away from New England and becoming a beachcomber in Hawaii.

OK, I am being circumspect here. The inner child wants to go out and party hearty, get down…and it doesn’t get any better after that. Happy now, Word Press!

Talkfest

Push the right button, and I’ll go on for quite a while. Some might say I’m loquacious, wordy, rambling, long-winded, or even talkative. Others mutter about how easily I evade description by deceptive verbal logorrhea. Others have been kind and said that it was like I was under an enchantment that kept me from shutting up.
A close friend implored me to reduce the rhetoric if I ever expected people to flock to me for advice. “Be concise and less wordy.”

In response, I have nothing to say.

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