Escaping the 06511 zip code

Leaving behind some great friends

Now, do not get me wrong – I had a lot of fun with many of my friends in New Haven, and for those who will be staying there for additional school or folks I met who live in CT outside of New Haven – I will miss them greatly.  They were the most immediate source of aid and comfort in the face of often finding coursework and daily life experiences with the rudeness of New Havenites – and I am deeply thankful for their presence.

Plus, they gave me excuses and dining partners for outings to the various delicious restaurants around the city:

Kelli and I at our beloved Plan B Burger, with our eyes wide shut for the photo!

Kelli and I at our beloved Plan B Burger, with our eyes wide shut for the sole photo I could convince our waiter to take with my expensive DSLR camera (they were nervous about breaking it)!

For the ways in which “technology can really ruin people’s ability to be truly present with one another” can sometimes sound like a valid concern, it will be that self-same technology which allows me to continue to cultivate and enjoy friendships forged over as many as 3 years – and that is a wonderful thing.

No end in sight/packing up the remainder of my crap

So, as mentioned in the previous post, the afternoon after commencement was meant to be packing whirlwind, but it turned into a much-needed 12 hour coma for myself and my visiting family.

It is a damned good thing we did so, too… because even in the face of weeks (in fact more than a year, as I used the space in my car to bring home stuff every time I have gone home since May 2013) of packing and preparation, the amount of crap we had to box, bag, and otherwise defenestrate was astonishing.

IMG_20131210_102846_677

The room prior to being emptied, back in the middle of December

Sure, it is true that I was in the same house in DC for nearly 4 years and had accumulated a lot of stuff there (and I am a camper and a builder/fixer, so much of it was useful gear)… so that all got moved up north in 2011, and then I added 3 New Haven years of crap to it (again, mostly useful stuff… just bulky).

So.

It was a hell of a long day, with our intentions starting at “it should take about 4 hours, we can depart at noon or so and drive part of the way to our respective destinations” and eventually arrived at “well, we just packed for 8.5 hours, Michael is passing out standing up.”

My bedroom of 3 years is now a cold, empty husk... like me :D

My bedroom of 3 years is now a cold, empty husk… like me 😀

I went to Bob’s to pick up the trailer, and again recognized how tired I was, and also how unsafe it is to drive while exhausted… but even less safe to tow a trailer in the darkening evening.

I spoke to Bob and was able to secure a bed in their guest room to sleep for the night, and I cannot overstate how important this was to my (eventual) safe passage south to Maryland.  I slept deeply and departed on Wednesday (rather than Tuesday), and did the trip in one fell swoop.

Crazy to think how many hours I spent in the basement there, and how much fun I had in the space I worked so hard to renovate and make useful.

Crazy to think how many hours I spent in the basement there, and how much fun I had in the space I worked so hard to renovate and make useful.

For more on the arrival and continuing story of my time in Maryland, please see the blog I put together for that experience, at this link.

The setting of New Haven. and (happily) moving away from it

The number of gang shootings and drug violence in my immediate neighborhood (some of which can be seen here) was a serious part of my time in New Haven – something like 21 or 22 instances of shots fired in 3 years, within 5 houses of mine.  This is besides the more “typical” crimes experienced by Yale students – down around the university, muggings are a common experience, and not where I lived (after all, I lived in the poor part of town so no one had money on them to be stolen).

Crime is not a new experience for my living situation, but I will tell you what really wore me down the most – the rudeness and generally aggressive-paired-with-frustration that came forth from many of the people I interacted with in New Haven… particularly while driving.  In a serious way I am thankful for 3 years spent in the area, 2 of which involved a lot of driving – I was always a decent driver, but I am at a place in my life where NYC is “just an annoyance to be avoided” as opposed to the stressful bugbear of past-Mike’s outlook on driving.  Through this crucible I became a better driver, and indeed the crucibles abounded in and around New Haven.

Thankful as I am for all the good and for the bad experiences turned into good lessons learned, I was more than ready to get out by the time the semester ended and I headed south.

My tired parents and brother, helping finalize the packing process

My tired parents and brother, helping finalize the packing process

FAR too many things do I own; the vast majority of them went home to OH for me to deal with at a later time (oh joy)

FAR too many things do I own; the vast majority of them went home to OH for me to deal with at a later time (oh joy)

Final thoughts on school

I have always loved Calvin & Hobbes, and this one comic captures many of my thoughts about the academy in general, after a good 8 years trapped in it:

Cannot agree enough

Cannot agree enough

Critical thinking and carefully examining the problems of our world are vital aspects of any well-lived life – but the number of times I have watched the sinking ship of “a conversation with relevance to the real world” from a lifeboat, as my peers would continue the quibbling that sunk the ship of relevance in the first place… was too many for me to bear.  I was way ready to get out of the academy more than 2 years ago, even – but I stuck it out, and for many reasons (the lessons learned in class, the lessons learned about how not to act or live by observing other people, and most importantly: nearly full coverage of my shoulder surgeries and physical therapy all made this waiting game worth it).  I am deeply thankful for the opportunities I had at Yale, but it simply wasn’t a good fit for me in many ways because, frankly, I dislike obfuscation and prefer action to pontification.

There are a lot more things I could say about this place, but suffice to say: I took the advice of a YDS peer long ago and always assumed good intentions in the words, throughts, and deeds of my Yale Divinity peers – as everyone up there, so far as I could tell, had their hearts genuinely in the right place.  Just, too often did someone offer their politics instead of their religious convictions (if any, a complex issue at YDS as I experienced it) – and just like in church in real life, I didn’t come to hear about a person’s politics, I came to hear a religious message.  I got some of the religious insights and training I sought, often from unexpected sources, but at the end of the experience I am so deeply, truly grateful to be moving back out into the real world and out of the bubble of seminary (which, to be fair, is a reality about most seminaries, being a bubble).

I think, if you go back and read through this blog, you’ll see that I moved over time further and further into projects and camping trips because 1) they were in the real world and away from the bubble; and 2) they were constructive actions, as opposed to the academy’s tendency to deconstruct everything with a nauseating smugness and then offer no solutions whatsoever.  My mind and body were ready to depart, and now departed I am (save for the summer’s internship, which due to my fighting for it, will be physical labor- and project-heavy… as rehabilitation after so long in the academy).

Glad to have gone, but more glad to have finished and now to be gone, it seems.

Thanks for reading the blog!

To those folks who have followed my blogged time in New Haven and at Yale Divinity School, I can quote unto you the message I painted on the basement stairs over 2 years ago:

Thanks indeed, Winchester House

Thanks indeed, Winchester House

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“I bring good news, of great soy” – visiting my summer internship site in southern Maryland, from farm to house to church and more!

The roadtrip

After installing the summer Borbet wheels (which were both thrown in for free by the previous owner, which is a crazy good deal for me; AND which were given a great deal on new Hankook Ventus 2 tires and so forth thanks to my wallet-destroying friend, Tom) on the street in front of my house… and being lucky enough that the trucker’s warning triangles I once bought cheaply from Craigslist were sufficient enough to keep cars away, I packed the car BATTLEWAGON and was ready to go!

Summer tires in place, ready to rock (but mostly roll)

Summer tires in place, ready to rock (but mostly roll)

With my good friend and fellow student Nathan, who will be living and working alongside me in this house over the summer, we departed YDS at 4pm or thereabout.

Nathan and I in the Yale Divinity parking lot, excited to depart!

Nathan and I in the Yale Divinity parking lot, excited to depart!

I cannot fully believe it myself, but 3 long and not always fun years in New Haven and at Yale can consider their days numbered – this trip was the harbinger of an escape less than two months away.  Even less credible, but also true: we hit a total of 27 minutes of traffic, on I-95 south in NYC, before the George Washington Bridge, and otherwise had smooth sailing all the way.  Fantastic, hard to believe, and a good start to a great weekend.  We arrived at Nathan’s parents’ home in MD, and quickly passed out after a long day.

The visitation of DC and VA friends

I set aside Friday to go down and make a pilgrimage to places where I knew old friends still exist, and also to visit my prior institution, American University.

Amurka!

Amurka!

Between juggling attempted visits with professors and old friends, my initial stop by AU in the morning was just good for grabbing photos of a couple of these iconic views it was (surprisingly) good to see, again.

The lovely new School of International Service, which was done in time for my graduation day but not my usage

The lovely new School of International Service, which was done in time for my graduation day but not my usage

That said, I stopped by the school later in the afternoon after a lengthy lunch with friends, and visited with both a former roommate who know works in the AU public safety department; and one of my favorite professors of computer science, who showed me his newest craze – quadcopters.  A lot of fun was had, and I look forward to further visitations with those folks and others over the lengthy summer!

AU, don't you ever change, as a place where wearing your heart on your sleeve isn't enough... you need multiple shirts for your multiple hearts!

AU, don’t you ever change, as a place where wearing your heart on your sleeve isn’t enough… you need multiple shirts for your multiple hearts!

The lunchtime hour(s) was spent catching up with my good friends Deb and Kim, whom I met and toiled alongside at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, in January 2013 – we were all prospective diaconal ministers, and in the midst of a grueling schedule, we got to become great friends.  As one might imagine, and in spite of possible height differentials making direct conversation difficult (as per below), we had a fantastic time and a delicious meal at Silverado.

Finally reunited with my fellow diaconal-inclined Lutheran friends, Deb and Kim!

Finally reunited with my fellow diaconal-inclined Lutheran friends, Deb and Kim!

I drove something like 75 miles within DC and northern VA in a single day, and that was enough for me – after a good 12 or 13 hours away from Nathan’s folks’ house, I drove back and again fell into a blissful, deep sleep.  As my time at home in Ohio a few weeks ago, for spring break, made clear to me: the benefits for mood, outlook, disposition, and body tension levels that I find from being away from negative settings (for instance, the latest disrespectful toxic housemate I am stuck with; the gang shootings around my house in New Haven, and the academic setting at YDS in general).  Even as a stanger in the strange land of Laurel, MD, I slept like the dead and it was great.  I fully suspect this sort of healthy, non-tense and indeed edifying experience of passing living in southern Maryland versus CT will continue for the whole summer, and I cannot overstate my thankfulness for and excitement about that.

The farm, the house, the joy

Nathan and I amidst the college's community garden and the new plot we will work and make flourish

Nathan and I amidst the college’s community garden and the new plot we will work and make flourish

Saturday was The Main Event: first driving the 2 hours further south, to Saint Mary’s City MD – the historical landing site for the Catholic colonists who petitioned for a patch of land in the New World where they could worship (as Catholics were disallowed from worshipping in England at the time), in 1634.  As the original state capital, it was a place which would remain small and agricultural up until and then after the point when the capital was moved to Annapolis – and this trend continues today.  One of the peculiar aspects of living in “the county” (which is how everyone I met referred to the area), one will encounter a wide swathe of people whose family has owned the very expensive land they own since the 1640s… but who have no liquidity.  It is our hope, through directly donating crops grown and also teaching how easy/cheap/healthy it is to grow one’s own food in the plentiful soil of the area, to help directly improve the lives of the surprising number of hungry in the area.

 

Beauty and joy abound, around our summer home

Beauty and joy abound, around our summer home

Historic Saint Mary's City has frame 'buildings' on the sites where the original colonists built their lives on the shores of this New World

Historic Saint Mary’s City has frame ‘buildings’ on the sites where the original colonists built their lives on the shores of this New World.  Somewhat haunting, as neighbors go I suppose.

As you see in the two photos above, the setting around the house is extremely rural and empty (this is a siren song to my ears, tired as they and I are of the urban shitshow of New Haven).  Below you can see the house from front and back, prior to the lead paint on the outside being scraped and replaced for our arrival at the end of May:

Front of the house and the MFALCON, both looking lovely

Front of the house and the MFALCON, both looking lovely

The back of the being-renovated home

The back of the being-renovated home

My bedroom is a lighter shade of green than my current New Haven home, and is a mere 120 by 144 inches, which is not a large space – but honestly, a part of my attempting to learn and grow this summer is in the key of “don’t bring too much, do too much, or worry too much” – so besides Ike and his house, my clothes, computer, and camping gear, I will not be bringing anything more.  Such a small space ought to be entirely sufficient!

My bedroom for the coming year shall again be green, and it has a gorgeous view of both foliage and field

My bedroom for the coming year shall again be green, and it has a gorgeous view of both foliage and field

If memory serves, this little brown house is over 110 years old, and various portions of it are in different stages of being renovated for us; one of the finished areas is the kitchen, which looks lovely:

The brand new, gorgeous kitchen I will be getting to use with Nathan, to cook for ourselves and guests all summer long

The brand new, gorgeous kitchen I will be getting to use with Nathan, to cook for ourselves and guests all summer long

Nathan looking uncharacteristically worried, regarding the fan in one of our common rooms

Nathan looking uncharacteristically worried, regarding the fan in one of our common rooms

The members of the parish have already indicated a certain kind of excitement in helping us to furnish this building and make it a home and a house of hospitality and prayer; all told, then the housing angle of this summer couldn’t be any more wonderful!

Trinity Episcopal Church and Saint Mary College

Beyond the farming portion of the summer, I will be working with and learning from Pastor John Ball of Trinity Episcopal church, and that will involve several additional responsibilities.  One of them will be preaching to both of the congregations in the parish (there is the main church building, seen below, and then a small chapel down the road with a commited, small set of older folks who live near and worship there).

Trinity Episcopal, a lovely little building

Trinity Episcopal, a lovely little building

 

The view from the pulpit

The view from the pulpit

"Trinity: since 1638" is very cool to me

“Trinity: since 1638” is very cool to me

Another project I know of from the very beginning will be helping manage, fundraise, and generally effect the cause of saving Church Point: a sandy small peninsula into the river off from where the church and the college is located, it has lost several yards of sand and sediment to the water since 1950 or so.  The below photo shows the cross on the sand again, only because a big tractor was brought down to drag it 50 or so feet onto the now-shrunk shore.  It will be like my Eagle Scout project days again, in many ways – but now with a certain kind of authority as “oh, that seminary intern guy”!

Church Point, eroding away - and working to galvanize support and fundraise to restore it

Church Point, eroding away – and working to galvanize support and fundraise to restore it

The College's marina, right down the hill from the church, free for our summer use.  Yesssssssssssssss

The College’s marina, right down the hill from the church, free for our summer use. Yesssssssssssssss

The full replica of the Dove, which originally got settlers to these shores in the 1600s

The full replica of the Dove, which originally got settlers to these shores in the 1600s

There will be many other projects ahead, but now all I can think about is my excitement to getting down there and settled into a healthy set of routines in a great little house with my good friend and classmate Nathan.

Excited beyond belief for this coming summer?

Yup.

The sun also sets

The sun also sets

From delicious views and weather, to delightful locals and lands, I cannot think of anything about this summer which doesn’t have the capacity to be outstanding right out of the gate.  Just in terms of measuring “average number of weekly gang violence within 2-3 blocks of my house”, I can already guarantee that this will be a more peaceful, wholesome, and edifying experience than New Haven.  The nature of living with non-students, and outside of the bubble of seminary (it is not, to be fair, just YDS that has this – seminaries in general tend to become bubbles in so many ways), I rejoice at the chance to make lasting friendships with “real people” so to speak, people with mortgages, and debt, and jobs, and families… and people who DON’T babble about theory and minutia without any real life experience to back up their pontificating.  (For reference, the preceding sentences of critique of my Yale/New Haven setting were GREATLY edited down, in terms of lengths and crass vulgarities).

In short, then: my summer internship in Saint Mary’s City, Maryland, is going to be a peaceful, edifying, educational, and positive experience to finish the last requirement to get my degree from Yale.  I will be doing a blog specific to the summer, and I greatly encourage you to take a look once it is posted and running, later in May.

For now, back to the grind to finish this semester.

This summer is going to be so beautiful to see and soak in, I nearly can't stand it

This summer is going to be so beautiful to see and soak in, I nearly can’t stand it

NECE 4, Day 2 – the Green Mountain Club HQ; Ben and Jerry’s factory; Stellafane Amateur Observatory

Waking up from the EVERFROST

The night was, to be honest, miserable – even with fleece blankets to line my sleeping bag, I was VERY cold. Cold to the level of going into the fetal position inside the sleeping bag, and arms in armpits to maximize heat recirculation for my body, and still shivering.  And I am a big guy, so I don’t really shiver.

I woke up/decided to get out of the tent and start moving around 6am, a process which went something like this:

It was very, very, very cold on Friday morning. VERY. COLD.

It was very, very, very cold on Friday morning.
VERY.
COLD.

After checking extremities for frostbite (my left pinky and all my right toes felt VERY cold, in that “oh shit” kind of way), I got out of the tent and started moving as much as I could.  To say the least, I was not happy with the -20 degree rating on my sleeping bag… but as my brother has since explained to me, -20 rating means “you MIGHT not freeze to death in -20, and you’ll be really warm and comfortable at -5″… which is a bit different than how I understood it.  As they say, you (barely) live and learn.

The tent looked so nice as I departed, but was approximately 0 degrees Kelvin on the inside

The tent looked so nice as I departed, but was approximately 0 degrees Kelvin on the inside

I checked online, and the capitol of the state, 13 miles away, was -14 degrees F during the course of the night – and locals in Waterbury reported -18 on their thermostats. Chilly indeed, even if the above photo looks like a nice winter day.  But cold is nothing new, so I departed for… a McDonald’s in order to get out of the wind and thaw a bit.  I cannot overstate how thankful I am that the closest one, a 30 minute drive away, had a fireplace in their dining room… as I got to warm myself for the 2 hours unscheduled that morning!

A raccoon froze to death during the night!  Very good sign for the safety of my experience, I should think

A raccoon froze to death during the night! Very good sign for the safety of my experience, I should think

Even with the FROST-PERIENCE and racoon-popsicle discoveries of my evening and morning, one cannot overstate the gorgeous views across the top of the Little River dam and reservoir:

Sunrise over the reservoir, just gorgeous

Sunrise over the reservoir, just gorgeous

The Long Trail, starting at the Green Mountain Club Headquarters

As I have hiked on the Appalachian Trail before, my intention was to spend a good set of the 272 miles on VT’s famed Long Trail while in the state.  When I began to look into that, I found there is a non-profit organization in the state, which is responsible for maintaining those miles and miles: the Green Mountain Club!

Green Mountain Club HQ

The new GMC HQ building is 100% built from local sustainable materials, entirely self-sufficient for power, and is 100% gorgeous

The new GMC HQ building is 100% built from local sustainable materials, entirely self-sufficient for power, and is 100% gorgeous

From what I read online, their new headquarters building was built entirely with local sustainable lumber, and is powered fully by solar.  Once I got there, I found out fascinating additional details: they had to build the new building because the old one burned down; they have composting toilets so produce very little wastewater; they use a special sort of boiler for heat and water heating, which is crazy efficient; and the list of cool things went on and on.

The interior of the GMC HQ was gorgeous, and adorned with all manner of historical gear and backpacks

The interior of the GMC HQ was gorgeous, and adorned with all manner of historical gear and backpacks

The building was gorgeous, the staff was friendly and knowledgeable about the specifics of the building, the Long Trail, and just more of my immersion into the friendly and jovial culture of Vermonters.  Also, they happened to be well-situated in order to see Camel’s Hump Mountain, which is where I was planning on hiking:

The peak of Camel's Hump as seen from the Green Mountain Club

The peak of Camel’s Hump as seen from the Green Mountain Club

The lunch of champions: stopping by the Ben & Jerry’s factory

On my way towards the GMC, I passed by a place I had visited in my childhood with my family, the Ben & Jerry’s factory.  I knew I needed lunch on my way south to Springfield VT, so I figured I had found my diner!

Snow sculpture of a guy churning snow into ice cream, in front of the ice cream central... INCEPTION

Snow sculpture of a guy churning snow into ice cream, in front of the ice cream central… INCEPTION

After ordering and enjoying a cookie-layered sundae with hazelnut ice cream (yes, I probably got diabetes from typing that, much less eating it), I snapped some photos and then got into the car for my trip down south.

In heaven

In heaven

A wall of ice cream scoops with my hazelnut and cookie sunday lunch... so good.

A wall of ice cream scoops with my hazelnut and cookie sunday lunch… so good.

Observing Stellafane Amateur Observatory

All signs point to astronomy

All signs point to astronomy

The highlight of the trip for me, in some ways, was a visit to get a private tour of the Stellafane Observatory.  I drove the 2 hours south to Springfield, to meet with Ken Slater, the vice president of their club, who was happy to give me a private tour of the grounds.

The Stellafane lodge, atop the hill

The Stellafane lodge, atop the hill

The catch, of course, was that we had to snowshoe in over the unpaved hills and dales, which was (as snowshoeing is wont to be) tiring but worthwhile!

The unique1924  Porter telescope, still standing and in use all these years later

The unique1924 Porter telescope, still standing and in use all these years later

Atop the hill sits the pink lodge building, with several telescopes in it, and then the famous Porter observatory off by itself.

The VP of the Stellafane Club, Ken, and I in front of the lodge

The VP of the Stellafane Club, Ken, and I in front of the lodge

Ken told me all about the peculiarly important place of Stellafane in the history of astronomy – basically, it was a place which took the telescopes as curiousities of the rich in the 1900s and 1910s, and began to turn it into a club for enthusiasts… until the magazie Scientific American picked up on their existence and wrote an article.

Only a few of the compendiums of Scientific American articles on amateur telescope making, all because of Stellafane

Only a few of the compendiums of Scientific American articles on amateur telescope making, all because of Stellafane

An article which outperformed every single article they had ever written… and the editors caught on when they received boatloads of letters indicating their interest.  The voluminous article-writing after was big enough to necessitate the bound books (some of which can be seen above), and was really interesting to learn about!

The handsome Stellafane logo, atop the lodge

The handsome Stellafane logo, atop the lodge

The classy and dapper 1910s gentleman being the symbol of Stellafane (seen above, atop the front door to the lodge) ought not give the wrong impression – the interior of the lodge is split between cooking space for guests, and teaching space for learners:

A blackboard for teaching, and photos of nearly 100 years of telescoping

A blackboard for teaching, and photos of nearly 100 years of telescoping

The astronomical curios in the room were 1) awesome and 2) tempting as all hell to stock up on as quickly as I can, in order to outfit nerd-rooms in my future house (note: all rooms in my home will be nerd rooms… so I will need a *lot* of curios):

One of many awesome things I hope to one day have in a room(s) in the house I hope to build.

One of many awesome things I hope to one day have in a room(s) in the house I hope to build.

One of my favorite pieces in the lodge was the series of glass plates with images taken decades ago by the amateur telescopes of the club:

Glass plate images from over 75 years ago, made using amateur made telescopes.  Breathtaking.

Glass plate images from over 75 years ago, made using amateur made telescopes. Breathtaking.

Ken got a photo of me checking out the Porter observatory through my Pentax, with the not-so-clear-skies above:

Yours truly photo'ing the Porter telescope (this shot taken by Ken, and posted here with his permission)

Yours truly photo’ing the Porter telescope (this shot taken by Ken, and posted here with his permission)

As has been alluded to above, Stellafane actually is home to multiple telescopes… and that number grows, as they offer once per month courses on how to grind your own mirrors, to make your own telescopes.  I REALLY want to make it up there to do this, not least of all because astrophotography CAN be done with DIY telescopes… which is REALLY awesome:

Another one of the observatories dotting the 70+ acres at Stellafane

Another one of the observatories dotting the 70+ acres at Stellafane

As a matter of fact Stellafane almost has more telescopes than they know what to do with; Ken got a shot of me with one of the larger (gigantic and enormously heavy) telescopes in storage, awaiting refurbishment and installation somewhere:

That is a LARGE telescope, one of the donations given to Stellafane (I believe this one came from one of the old Harvard observatories and was considering too old to refurbish)

That is a LARGE telescope, one of the donations given to Stellafane (I believe this one came from one of the old Harvard observatories and was considering too old to refurbish)

But refurbish they do, using some fascinating tools: a polishing tool made from common ceramic floor tiles to scrape the glass evenly:

Ken showing off a GIGANTIC mirror being polished with a homemade ceramic tile scraper

Ken showing off a GIGANTIC mirror being polished with a homemade ceramic tile scraper

At the end of another long but excellent day in Vermont, I drove north and snapped a few photos along the way, as I continued to marvel at the scenery along the way.  VT is almost *too* visually appealing in the winter, so I assume in the summer it blooms with the force of a thousand Edens.  Though it bills itself as “Green Mountain State” on its license plates, I would offer: it ought to be re-motto’d as “Lands of Unending Subarus”, with their all wheel drive and ease of use for moving sporting equipment.

A shot taken one handed while driving to try and capture the beauty along I89 - just another excuse to fashion a camera mount to go on the headrest of the passenger seat, I guess!

A shot taken one handed while driving to try and capture the beauty along I89 – just another excuse to fashion a camera mount to go on the headrest of the passenger seat, I guess!

I slept VERY soundly, once I got back to the tent, not least of all because it was a sweltering 12 degrees F outside.

Amping up my quest for improved household air quality – plants upstairs and down

Having spent time the other day replacing the house furnace and my own little box fan/filter with new and higher end filters, I got to considering: I am of the opinion that replacing those filters is ENTIRELY worth the money, but to some degree it bothers me that the old ones are just thrown away.

And it bothers me that I have to keep paying, as well, to be quite honest.

So I started doing a skill I have had for years (and honed to masterclass while one-armed healing from surgery): namely, searching Google for abstract ideas and project desires I have, and finding those unrelated searches coalescing into a real plan.

In this case, I eventually found out that NASA of all groups did a study on the possibilies offered to internal building air quality improvement by the use of certain plants.

As a science fiction nerd, this already was cool in my mind – the whole “spaceship with self contained oxygen garden” idea always fascinated me, and now I get to do it with my house!!

The plants I got include a peace lilly; a mother in law’s tongue; three small pots with rosemary seeded; a money plant; and a golden pothos vine – all combine their efforts to turn carbon dioxide into the freshest oxygen, but they will also better regulate the humidity of my bedroom; the rosemary will make the air smell pleasant AND give me some of the health benefits of rosemary oil AND allow me to brew fresh tea whenever I would like; the peace lilly and a few others actually EAT carbon monoxide and formaldehyde and other nastiness out of the air; and so all things considered, I should probably actually sleep better (both from the knowledge of cleaner air, but honestly from increased ease of breathing)!!!

Welcome to the jungle

Welcome to the jungle

All told, the desk’s transition to THAT much greenery will be temporary, as some of the plants need less sun and will be moved atop the dresser on the left.  Even still, given that I ordered areca palm seeds (which easily sprout up to shoulder height and then SPEW fresh oxygen), its not like I even have enough space in my bedroom for all the plants I’d like.

As with so much else in the house, I consider this another test run of something important to me for my eventual house of my own.

As time, I will perhaps post updates of how effective this seems to be (and given I have a housemate with two guinea pigs next door to my bedroom and the associated smells, I will QUICKLY be able to detect changes I should think).

The final academic showdown: the last semester

Academics, nearly defeated

Reptilian possibilies for the future...

Reptilian possibilities for the near future…

So here we are, the final spring semester (or really, ANY semester) of my academic career.  I am almost as tired as the above leopard geckos, when it comes to school and its crap.

At least for the foreseeable future.  Perhaps one day, I will be dumb enough to go for a PhD of some sort and again give up my ability to enjoy myself and the people in my life due to asinine assignments and abnormal hours spent working.

Even still, the class lineup for this spring is as follows:

1) Southeast Asian Christianities – merely a requirement, the Non-Christian requirement, to be fulfilled here (not too many other options are offered, so a LOT of people take this course).  Taught by Chloe Starr, a scholar focused closely on that area, it will hopefully be interesting to examine issues of native Korean and Japanese religion, and how those tend to interplay with the rise of Christian presence in those lands over time.  Given it will be a strongly historical course, I am thinking it will be pretty good.

2) Introduction to Christian Ethics II – this is one of those courses where you surprisingly don’t have to take the first portion of the content first, or at all – this class will focus heavily on differing notions of social gospel; and more contemporary developments in Christian ethical thoughts.  Taught by Frederick Simmons, a very very very very intelligent man, the class will be a good closing experience for the slew of ethical this and ethical that I have taken over the years.  In a peculiar way, I have taken several courses at YDS with “ethics” in the title… but none of them, I have discovered, actually counted for the “ethics” requirement.  Discerning the difference between “ethics” and “ethics” apparently being some kind of master final exam of ethical prowess, I just took this class to satisfy the requirement.

3) MLK, Religion, and Civil Rights – taught by Clarence Hardy, this course ought to be a very interesting look at the Civil Rights movement; more on this as the course develops.

4) the Lutheran student colloquium, on the final topic of “random things the professor wants to teach” – I just enjoy spending time with some of my closest friends from and at YDS, in the Lutheran student contingent.  Not 100% clear on what will be taught, by former bishop of New England Margaret Payne, but it should at least be fun to sit in with friends.

Sadly, of course, I will have to do a damnable internship over this coming summer (with the associated 6 credit hour course, thankfully which takes place over 2 full days in May in New Haven in person, and then solely via Internet communications… so I will be free to escape New Haven VERY soon).

Games galore, sweet baby Jesus

So the job with managing the researchers for the French Resistance project has been lucrative enough to pay for car upgrades, cover some cost of living stuff… and thus left enough for more games to be added to the collection, including:

3 of the new games, gotten for 50% off and brand new in box (via BGG)

3 of the new games, gotten for 50% off and brand new in box (via BGG)

Android: Netrunner: a two player assymetrical card game, pitting the big evil megacorporation of the cyberpunk future versus the lone hacker, this game is surprisingly easy to play once you work through the odd language choices for many of the components of the game. And highly addictive. Highly.  I bought more of the expansions for it than I am comfortable admitting.
A Few Acres of Snow: a two player board game, the core mechanic of which is drawn from Dominion (namely, deck building during the game), this game involves the French and British battling for the American provinces during the French and Indian War.  Also addictive and awesome.
1989 Dawn of Freedom: a 2 player game which pits the Communist against the Democrat in Eastern Europe in the eponymous year, the game revolves around using your sides tools (communist uses repression and arrests; democrat uses intellectuals and protest marches) to try and sway the opinion of each sub area on the map to your side.  Interesting that the Communist player starts in control of the entire map, and gains points for maintaining as much control as possible over time, whereas the Democrat scores for gains.
Galactic Emperor: Quite honestly, not a game I was aware of… but the guy who sold me 1989 and Tzolk’in was willing to toss it in for 50% off the list price of $60 brand new in the box, so sure!  A quick paced and small board to battle for control of the galaxy (oddly enough, given the title)
Tzolk’in – The Mayan Calendar: this game has a series of plastic cogs built into the board upon which each player places worker tokens… and then the gears move and thus the “calendar” represents time moving them about.  Heard great things, got 50% off as well.
Ticket to Ride Marklin Edition: got this over Christmas, but its the quintessential railroading intro game for non-gamers, but the map is of Germany (and the trains are all Marklin model trains).
Bora Bora: a German game about settling and expanding in the Polynesian part of the world, the game balances economy building with propitiating the Gods, and seems to be really quite interesting to play with the full 4 players based on scarcity of space and resources.
The End of the Triumvirate: one of the few three player games out there, its Caesar vs Pompey vs Cassius, and its SO much fun, forcing players to watch both political and military gains of their rivals.
Glory to Rome: a card game with somewhat tongue-in-cheek art, the core mechanic is apparently around gaining and then profiting off the resale of materials to rebuild Rome after a fire, and involves all manner of delightful screwing with other players
Pandemic On The Brink expansion: another expansion purchased over break, it makes a tough game damned near impossible to win 😀

Making my own billiards table lighting, for $48 less

Billiards table, but not lit well enough :(

Billiards table, but not lit well enough 😦

The fact of the matter remains, the basement is not well-lit enough for my tastes.  I suppose, to be fair, my tastes are known to widely vary, as most of the time I prefer no light at all; but when gaming or working on a project, I want to see everything in great detail.

Exterior fixture, ready to be installed

Exterior fixture, ready to be installed

The basic idea was: buy light fixture, don’t break the bank, and install it.  Then, Home Despot decided to dislike offering decent deals on lights suitable for the unfinished ceiling in the basement (with exposed rafters, not much space existed to connect fixtures).  So their offerings were in the $60-$80 range, which is to say: way too goddamned expensive.  Not being especially interested in that, I looked in other aisles and found an exterior flood light fixture with third socket for a total of $14… bought a simple extension cord, rigged it up, and now have more light in the basement than I know what to do with!

The lights, lit

The lights, lit

As a matter of fact, I am so pleased with that on-demand light above the billiards table that I have decided to now use it as the gaming table; this also have the nice side effect of reducing time spent dissassembling or setting up the projector on the circular table, which IS a big deal, given my having infected my friend Kelli with an addiction to Battlestar Galactica!!

Fabricating LED stairwell lighting for the basement

Prepping the low cost LED fixtures for the stairs...

Prepping the low cost LED fixtures for the stairs…

The other aspect of basement lighting which needed some help was the stairs – painted dark brown by “choice” (namely, that is what the landlord had on hand for free), it is a hell of a contrast from the super bright projector on the white screen… so restroom breaks during screenings are precarious at times.  Being disinterested in spending lots of money on assembly or powering it, I came up with and fabricated 6 modules with 2 LEDs apiece, on every other stair.

One fixture working and in place

One fixture working and in place

At the time of this writing, between 1 and 3 of the modules work.  Looks like I have VERY selectively flaky soldered connections somewhere in the lines, and will have to go back through to sort  that out.  Even still, I happen to think it looks pretty awesome (and more importantly: provides enough light to see the stair edges without making the ambient light in the basement during a screening increase)!!

The exciting spring ahead: non-school related things galore 😀

As much as it pains me to say (and to be clear, it is actually my genuine pleasure to admit this), I am going to have to do as little as possible school-related this spring.  Spring break will be mostly spent daring to rent a trailer and move home to OH most of my belongings, to make my May escape quick and painless.  The weekends I won’t be board gaming or screening television and movies with friends, I will be restarting this past summer’s New England Camping Experiences (NECE), starting probably at the end of this month.  The big one will be most of a week in February to Acadia National Park in Maine, to be there at the point where the sun first (also?) rises on these United States.

Stay tuned, the blog should have lots of awesome photos this semester.

Finally, a sneak peak of the new glasses I have ordered and am awaiting

Finally, a sneak peak of the new glasses I have ordered and am awaiting

“As I lay (recline) healing” – musings of the unwillingly idle

“What the Faulkner is he complaining about, being idle” you might be wondering.  Two things are indisputably true:

1) I function best when I feel/am useful
2) the healing process from these surgeries has kicked my ass and then laughed at me – even if I wanted to do anything more than physical therapy or class, I simply could not.

So, musings:

State of the Shoulder

First and foremost, how does my shoulder feel 37 days after the surgeries?  The answer depends on the day, but 10 days ago the pain had gotten manageable and was no longer tiring me out to a serious degree!

Then, I started physical therapy.

Everything is awful, thought I!  The pain has returned and thus being exhausted at all hours; the scar tissue collection my shoulder had begun was being destroyed.

Everything is blessedly alright, acknowledged I after the pain subsided and I thought about it.  Not only have the wounds completely closed and are free from complication (thus ending the live option of serious infection, thank God); the fact of the matter is, against all expectations, that I have started PT with a MUCH bigger range of motion than people do.  That is not to say I can do much of anything with the arm – I am still only capable of passive motion (eg leaning over and letting the right arm dangle to and fro; or using a cane in my left hand to move my right arm in different directions).  But I am nevertheless able to reach far above my head in two different directions as of 12 days into PT… which means I will likely get back to normal more quickly AND I don’t have as much to worry about in terms of complications.

Ike keeps a scaly eye on my healing process

Ike keeps a scaly eye on my healing process

That said, I have at least 5 more weeks in the sling, according to the last appointment with the surgeon.  I am to slowly leave the arm out of the sling each day, to get the elbow more comfortable with being unbent (though I assure you, it is massively uncomfortable to do so, yeesh), all the while continuing with my twice-daily exercises at home to maintain the gains from PT sessions (which are three times per week).

The road ahead (and the return to eventually using my own car)

The fact that I am least in pain when reclining, so I have every reason to research interesting plans and projects for the months ahead, once I am the two-armed man again.  Besides looking into gargoyle geckos and the design and construction of a 100% self-sustaining vivarium for them (stay tuned approx 14 months from now, once I am settled somewhere and have the money to build it, God-willing), I have been doing a great deal of systematic reading about my car, and ways to finally iron out the rest of the intermittent power loss issue (uphill on the highway, the engine sometimes goes into ‘limp mode’ and slows me down to 50mph… not especially fun).

now stored away as I mend

now stored away as I mend

But I have also read about performance and efficiency enhancements, to say nothing of adding utility AND good lucks to that wondrous diesel machine of mine.  A short list, for the interested:

-new camshaft, upgrades for the engine computer, bigger fuel injection nozzles – interestingly enough, well-designed diesel engines like this 1Z Volkswagen TDI become MORE efficient when you give them more fuel and performance engine components.  I am told I might be able to kiss 60 miles per gallon if I drive super careful on the highway… but 55mpg will be normal.   So worth it/LOL PRIUSUX
-need to try and fix the three spots of cosmetic rust, so the car can last to the 1 million miles I have planned for it
-very understated accent paint on things like the edge of the front grille, the canoe tiedown points, brake calipers
-painting the majority of my rooftop cargo carrier to match the car’s Storm Grey; doing the rim of the lid with the same aforementioned accent color (specifics still unclear)
-possiblt turn the interior into an altar to the stars and outer space (beyond just being the MFALCON, more on this later)
-slowly figure out a utility trailer, buy and renovate it as needed, to enable me to move out of New Haven without renting anything + to help me build my own house one day by transporting materials with my own gear!
Mind you, I can afford none of this now, and won’t soon have any money.  But I thrive on planning and tweaking things to improve them…

Post-Yale plans

So then, to close I offer a short update on where I hope to go, and what I want to do once I depart this place.

1) I am unwilling to pay rent any longer. I am going to carefully look into the “where” and strive to purchase land if at all possible; the “what” I do ought to be secondary to joining a community where I can flourish

2) I am at my best when I help others, but the lifestyle encouraged by academia (namely living beyond my means on loans while talking about sustainability) just doesn’t do it for me any more.  I want a goddamned salary to start paying down debt; as much as I feel drawn to a place like DC to dive into helping others, it would be arch-hypocrisy to live beyond my means while trying to encourage others to be sustainable.  So the “what I do” is wider open than before, which is both exciting and nervewracking.

3) I have had my fill of urban spaces.  I need to be where folks are friendly and where I would have lots of open, quiet space within which to meditate and purge my system of years of built-up annoyance and bitterness at all manner of things. Maybe not QUITE “My side of the mountain,” but close seems to be my ideal.  Any suggested locales to research would be appreciated.

4) Finally, there is an opportunity in front of me which would fulfill a lot of these hopes. I cannot say much still, but prayers and kind thoughts would be much appreciated.

This post brought to you by one-handed typing. ow.

By the sign of the Trident – right shoulder surgery, x2

Preparing for the one-armed days ahead

The surgeries, I was told by my friends and the surgeon and Internet research, that I should expect to spend many moons after surgery being unable to sleep or indeed sit comfortably without a recliner… and I put figured that reading books would be difficult with one arm alone.

So.

Recliner was acquired for a song and only part of a dance (read: $45) from Craigslist and is close to brand new.  Installed it into the basement (not realizing it would eventually need to be moved to my bedroom, as the pain meds made 2 flights of stairs to the bathroom in my house).

That left the issue of reading.

So I decided a $200 consumer book stand meant for reading from any angle (standing, sitting, reclining, laying down, etc) was overpriced without even knowing it maxed out at 4 lbs (due to the adjustable elbow being plastic).  As someone who dislikes stupid designs, this assured that I would design and build my own book stand.

So I did.

$47 or so worth of galvanized steel, Velcro, plumbing fittings, and spare lumber later, here was the final project outcome:

bookstand and recliner in the basement

bookstand and recliner in the basement

Sadly, as mentioned, the recliner had to move upstairs to my room, where it (and by extension, I) exist to this very day.

recliner in place in my bedroom so it would be closer to the restroom

recliner in place in my bedroom so it would be closer to the restroom

On the vehicular front, my stick shift car is not viable for months; thankfully, my good friend from krav maga, Andrea, owns a house with a driveway the MFALCON can live for months… and a 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a Mike-useable automatic transmission.  Helped her wash it, even had my dad restore the headlights while he was here after the surgery happened, and Convalescent-Mike has got wheels.

Jeep borrowed from my friend Andrea and storing my car there

Jeep borrowed from my friend Andrea and storing my car there

Merely a flesh wound…

But what were these surgeries, and why were they needed?  A question many folks have asked me, so I wanted to offer a brief timeline and explanation here.

Causes

1) in late May, whilst throwing an elbow strike at krav maga, it suddenly felt like something tore; an x-ray and 2 MRIs later, it turns out I had a tear in the posterior labarum (in short, the bundles of fibers holding the muscles to the joint);
2) I also have a genetic abnormality in the capsule of the shoulder, meaning the ligaments holding the arm to the torso formed improperly from birth; this is related to
3) the fact that I have serious hypermobility in my shoulder (think double-jointed thumbs), making my shoulders (naturally the least stable joint in the human body) dangerously prone to injury of the potentially irreparable sort in the future

initial dressing, sling, and ice pack harness

initial dressing, sling, and ice pack harness

Surgical intentions:

1) orthoscopically (incision-free) fixing the labral tear
2) an incision in the front of the shoulder to determine just how much the capsule needed fixing by reattaching it to the bone (oy)
3) poking around to make sure there were no other problems hidden from 2 MRIs (OY)

The surgery itself went quite well, with neither complication nor infection.  This whole process was far les stressful because my wonderful parents insisted on traveling the many miles from Cleveland to be with me.

And boy golly did I need the help post-surgery, as I will elaborate below.

… “the Trident?”

An odd title for this post perhaps, yes.  But odder still was the eventual removal of the dressing, and finding a blue tattooed Trident.  The surgeon, apparently, moonlights as a Greek hoplite who travels overseas to fight.

the two wounds and the Trident

the two wounds and the Trident

My body is too big for the prescribed Vicodin to touch me, so they gave me heavier-duty narcotics for the pain. And sweet Jesus I am glad they did, because the first week after was *incredibly* painful.  Even through percocet and oxycontin, and staying 6 days at the Yale Health Infirmary (the tertiary blessing in this whole debacle) I still struggled with the pain of using my ab muscles to get out of bed for using the restroom; thus my father’s presence for the first week was huge, as he could help me get up and lay down, and make me laugh in the midst of grimacing.  My mom too was present, and was an angel of medicine and maintaining cleanliness (the fear of infection given the 4 inch incision was quite pronounced).

My mom remained for the second week, and helped me all the way through, which also turned out more necessary than I realized.

Prognosis at the end of the second week post-surgery?

In short, its good.

my bike turned into exercise equipment for the winter and my healing

my bike turned into exercise equipment for the winter and my healing

In long, its goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooood.

I am infection- and complication-free after the most vulnerable time for those; I am off the pain meds (which means clearer head and better sleep, at the cost of pain a lot).  My friends have all been wonderful about striving to help me; my professors have been understanding; and my wonderful parents, prior to returning home, made sure I was as prepped as I could be.

my friends Matt and Jess, bringing me get-well apple cobbler

my friends Matt and Jess, bringing me get-well apple cobbler

That said, one-armed-living ain’t always fun. Had to buy shoes with clasps and Velcro (Tevas, a la my friend Tom).  And a grabber tool.  And other such tools.  Not all foods can be eaten one-handed; even fewer can be prepared.  Nevertheless, I fight ever onwards, ever upwards.

Another 3-5 weeks in the sling; an indeterminate number of months of physical therapy to follow.

And now you know the rest of the story.

my mom and I enjoying lunch on the new chairs she bought me

my mom and I enjoying lunch on the new chairs she bought me

dinner with my folks before they depart after two weeks of caring for me

dinner with my folks before they depart after two weeks of caring for me

enjoying fresh air towards healing fully

enjoying fresh air towards healing fully