Better Motivation, Thanksgiving, Living an Ordinary Life in an Ordinary Way.


For about the past three or four weeks, on weekends, I’ve been consistently getting up around 4:00 am and either riding my bike or driving to the gym Saturdays and Sundays.  Been a little hit or miss before that.  No idea why I’ve had better motivation recently than formerly.  My doctor told me about a year ago I should concentrate on strengthening my back and rotator-cuffs to alleviate bilateral shoulder pain he attributed, in part, to having overdeveloped my pectorals.  But to look at me, you wouldn’t think so.   Still, I’ve complied with his advice and my posture has improved as well as, a little bit, that shoulder pain.

My workouts have lasted about an hour and a half, and I incorporate legs and abs, some tricep and chest, with my primary lat, back, and bicep work.  Am I a glorious specimen of beautiful middle-aged masculinity?  Not so much, although I feel better – it’s good to feel strong.   I’m gaining weight, but my clothes still fit, so some of that must be muscle.


This was our year to spend Thanksgiving with my wife’s family but we stayed home for the holiday because of my work schedule.  We spent a really pleasant day with my family, instead.  Friday, my wife finished decorating the house for Christmas and my son and I went for a bike ride around the neighborhoods.  We stopped by and visited my godparents and then rode home when the boy looked like he was about to fall asleep.  He’s not ridden much over the past couple of months, so he had a hard time riding back up hill.


By some miracle or fluke of predestination and providence, I turned out not to be a complete monster.  I’ve written in this space, at some time or other, that for me or someone like me, the great adventure is to live the ordinary life in an ordinary way.  You can probably not grasp how unimaginable an outcome that seemed for me when I was young or how much joy it brings me now.  It’s what I’m daily most thankful for – my wife, son, our health, meaningful work for both my wife and myself, a modest house in a modest neighborhood, self-directed recreational activities like cycling, paddling, strength training, reading, a small and extremely Calvinistic congregation where we are accepted and maybe for the most part liked and to which we contribute by participation, prayers, offerings.  Also my extended family – much more important to me now in middle age than it seemed when I was a young man.

I have a lot to be grateful for and I hope you do, too.

Sick at Home on a Holiday Weekend

I’ve frankly admitted in this space earlier this month that I’ve been eating foolishly for about the past 40 days.  That, along with reduced opportunities for high intensity exercise, has resulted in a net weight gain of about six pounds.  My gut sticks out like I’m a few months pregnant and what I seem to be in danger of giving birth to is a fat, middle-aged man.  Oh, and the beard.  The beard has made it all seem worse.

For all that, I’ve taken what opportunities I can find to ride and have renewed my upper body strength training regimen.  Age doesn’t have to be about getting fat and weak.

After my cold, damp ride Thursday, my family and I drove to my mom’s house to celebrate Thanksgiving with the extended family.  Relatives from several states, as well as some living nearby, filled my mother’s house for the holiday meal.  The kitchen table held turkey, ham, gravy, and dressing.  The countertop under the china cabinet was covered with side-dishes.  One common ingredient to many of the sides was cheese.

I would guess that most of the adults present for the holiday feast consumed about 3000 calories.  Heck, I know I did, and the food was delicious.  In addition to the main and side-dishes was a counter covered with salads, and another surface covered with desserts.  About salads and The South – most congealed salads (except tomato aspic, I think it’s called) are really sweet jello desserts; the salad is the first dessert course.

Friday, at the workplace, I felt funky all day and cognitively off-key.  I said, at one point in late afternoon, “vital sounds” instead of “vital signs,” which I hope does not portend an amnestic disorder of some kind.  For lunch, I had a small meal from the cafeteria – not only because I felt ill, but also because I wanted to get an early start on my Disciplined December regimen.  My gut ached, my head throbbed slightly, and my lower back also ached.  I could not wait to get home.

Driving a car is easy, especially when it is an automatic transmission Swedish station wagon.  Back home, I thought I could relax and just crash, but we’d been invited to supper at Mom’s house where also present were my younger brother and his family.  We stopped at the store to buy a loaf to make garlic bread, and I filled up the red car’s tank at the gas station.  At Mom’s house, I tried to dial back my feeding, having only half a piece of chicken parmesan, and just one serving of spaghetti noodles, salad, and so forth.  I didn’t make a pig of myself.  Shortly after supper, chills set in and not long after that, we went back home. 

I spewed, then conked out in the spare bedroom with a towel and a Rubbermaid tub next to the bed.  Turns out they were unnecessary.  Saturday, one of the loveliest Thanksgiving Day Weekend Saturdays on record here at Stepford, I spent most of the day in bed, sleeping.  I probably ate no more then four or five hundred calories.  My gut continued to ache, as did my head and lower back.  I did, however, seem to have no further confusions of speech, but I didn’t talk a lot that day.

Because I was sick, I didn’t get to take my son outside, ride my bike, or enjoy an unexpected visit from dear  friends who passed by on their way home to Chattanooga.  Truly a wretched day of rest.

Sunday, I got up and taught (if you could call it that) my regular Sunday School class at the congregational meeting place (I need to update the Strip Mall Church page, because a lot’s happened with the congregation since I last made an edit there).  I went back to the house while my wife and son were at worship service, and rested a bit.  Still feeling pretty bad, but better than Saturday, I mowed and mulched up the thousands of leaves littering the yard.  Then, I got the Christmas decorations out of the attic so my wife could fill the house with visual reminders of the coming Holiday.  I think we forgot the Advent calendar, though.

I was able to eat Sunday, but by evening, felt chilled and checked my temperature.  Had a fever.  Had a lousy night’s sleep, and went to the local walk-in clinic first thing this morning.  The NP prescribed antibiotics for what he reckoned is a “stomach bug.”

So much good weather and so many opportunities for exercise and cycling, and opportunities to spend time with people I love as well as people I like, spoiled by a bacterium and its progeny.

Free Grace, Garden Tractors, Liberal Minds, Thanksgiving Trip

Free Grace

Many thanks to Brother Troy McDonald for the year’s subscription he gave me to Free Grace Broadcaster, a quarterly publication of Mount Zion Bible Church.  I got my first issue last week, containing very old articles on the ever timely topic of Secret Sins.  I don’t have any conviction-proof spectacles, but am nonetheless reading this slim volume daily.

Garden Tractors

Complicated but true is this tale of how I came to buy a John Deere lawn tractor.

When we rented the white house, where we lived shortly after our marriage, I had the use of the landlord’s old John Deere lawn tractor. No idea what model it was.  Mr. Shelton kept it parked next to his detached garage the seat and dash covered with an upended plastic tub to keep off the rain, or sometimes by a portion of a tarp. That was the only riding mower I had ever used up to that time. Compared to it, the Murray, which I still own but will gladly sell to you for $25.00, is unimpressive.

Murray 11/36 of unknown age still runs and cuts grass

Back during the hottest part of last summer, my lawn mower began to lose power and stall out while cutting the last 10 or 12 long stretches in the back yard at the old house. I’d wait a minute, restart the Murray, and cut another pass or two. Then I’d repeat the business of waiting and restarting until the lawn was done. I discussed the problem with my tribal elders – older men with considerable mechanical expertise. I consulted another man who makes a living repairing mowers.

The problem, it seemed, could have had something to do with worn rings, if I recall correctly, or a spark plug. The commercial and residential mower dealer past whose shop I then drove daily to and from work, was kind of an ass when I requested diagnostic services vis-a-vis serious engine trouble. The expert I mentioned above suggested trying out a J-19 spark plug, which made difference in power, but had no effect on the machine’s tendency to stall. I replaced the fuel filter and some fuel line. No joy.

Tribal elder Mike suggested draining the carburetor and replacing the air filter. Air filter? Burnt shreds of foam, like sponge that’d been found abandoned in a vacant lot, then microwaved too long, adhered to the metal housing of what turned out to be a sort of metal box designed to contain a green spongy air filter soaked in motor oil (which I duly bought, soaked in SAE 30 weight, and installed). But I think it was draining the fuel and cruddy bits out of the carb that effected the repair.

The yard here at the new house, a 30 year old traditional Stepford brick ranch with Florida room, attached 2 car garage, and room for a pony, is possibly more than twice the size of that at the old house. The Murray bogged down a few times in the thick growth of springy country-clublike grass out front, and that patch in back that catches the sun right for mutant lawn growth. The machine’s steering has ever been loose – exceedingly imprecise. It’s deck has rusted through in a couple of places, and its engine oozes, and uses, oil that cakes its sides. No need for an oil change, because incrementally it is replaced already during the course of the season. I have no idea whether that Briggs and Stratton 10 or 11 horsepower engine has an oil filter?

I never did wash or otherwise clean up the Murray. When it was given to me, it had lived untouched for about three, four years in a lean-to shed in a favorite cousin’s back yard. Because she hires her yard kept, she gave the mower to me. Before I got the Murray, I used push mowers to cut the smaller lawn at our former residence. Let me tell you that the use of a riding mower is a fitness mistake, but results in considerably more warm-weather free time.

Upon our return to Stepford from our Thanksgiving trip to the farm, I decided to find a lawn tractor to replace the many years old Murray.

And it happened in this way. I had to find a reference work and drove to the Stepford library on a Saturday morning to get it. On the way, I drove past Mr. Roper’s lawn mower shop and thought it would be pleasant to look at new riding mowers and ask about the availability of used machines. He had no used machines, but did have a couple of brand new John Deere L series lawn tractors, some Home Depot price-point Cub Cadets, and bunch of orange painted commercial mowers. He has decided to quit selling the John Deere line of residential mowers, but I cannot now remember the reason he gave. He is a persuasive older gentleman who almost had me convinced to buy one of his new last-year’s model Deeres. But because Caution-Lady and I don’t make any large purchases without obtaining the other’s uncoerced agreement, I told him I’d give the matter some thought, and left. I stopped at Faulker’s, also on the way to the library, but they had no used machines, and all of their new mowers were way too expensive for my budget. Again with the orange-painted zero turn radius commercial mowers. Turns out the library didn’t have what I needed, so I went home and found a useable reference online.

Monday after Thanksgiving, I took the day off to relax from Sunday’s all day drive south.  At, I found a 1984 John Deere 116 at a dealer across the county, near the Interstate.  So I drove over and had a look.  For a 25 year old lawn tractor, it looked remarkably well preserved.  It didn’t start, however, and had to be jump-started.  One of the spark plugs was badly corroded, and the battery would not hold a charge.  It needed a new muffler, and will need power take-off (PTO) bearings before the end of next season.

After Thanksgiving, in the town where I work, I drove past a John Deere tractor dealer, and on a whim stopped to see if they had any used mowers. They showed me a 2003 model GT235-E; it has an inverter and two outlets so you can use your mower as a generator to run power tools out in the yard if you need to. I will be interested to find out whether that’s useful or a gimmick. The machine looked almost new. The asking price was too high, however, so I said I’d think about it and left.

I joined a tractor forum to ask questions about these two John Deere tractors and got some good information and advice.  I looked at a Google Maps satellite view of the original owner’s hillside 2 or 3 acre lawn.  I phoned and talked with the original owner.  He’d always kept the mower serviced using actual John Deere products – oil, filters, etc.  He kept the mower in his garage alongside his vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycle and Corvette automobile.  Recalling Dave Ramsey‘s advice never to pay full retail price for anything, even if it is used, I drew out some money from the bank last week on a lunch break, then drove over to the John Deere dealer in the town where I work.

I took another look at the GT235E, checked the oil, started it, etc.  Walked back to the counter and put fewer $100.00 bills on the counter than I was willing to pay and told the dealer that, sales tax included, that was what I would give him in exchange for the mower.  He counted it up, thought for a moment, put it in the till and began writing me a receipt.  Before I left, I asked whether the original owner had supplied the operator’s manual when he traded the mower for new zero turn radius machine.  He had, so I got that, as well.  The dealer looked surprised when I asked him when he could deliver mower to my Stepford home, but did not balk.  The GT235E was waiting for me when I got home from work.

Fits in the garden-tool shed

GT235E left side. Note that it is missing the flimsy plastic bumper that shipped with these tractors.

A shot of the cockpit. Cup holder? This mower's also got a cruise-control. The manual deck-lifter's about the only non-automated feature.

In case you want to operate a blender while using a power tool to fix something down by the road

Clean engine - note the oil drain spigot toward the image's bottom right. It's the Briggs & Stratton Vanguard. 443 hours.

Liberal Minds

Liberal Mind Book-Cover

For the past year or so I’ve had Lyle H. Rossiter’s The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness.  The book is a challenging read that I have found empowering, revitalizing, and liberating.  Who knows, potentially life-changing stuff presented.  Although the author occasionally presents as settled fact opinion that he has not substantiated but which is also commonsense, he proffers a meticulously thought-out description of human development, potential psychopathology, potential health, and the consequences of each for human society.  I’d put the book down late last year to do some other reading, but have taken it up again.  Here quoted are some passages I read yesterday:

Human action is healthy when it is effective in the pursuit of happiness, legitimate in its respect for the rule of law, free because coercion is prohibited, cooperative when consent is voluntary and rewards are earned or given freely, and mutual in honoring the universality of rights to liberty and justly acquired property (156-7).

In political arenas, as in economic, social and personal ones, the tyrant’s motive is not derived primarily from his instinct for aggression per se nor from some real or imagined need for sexual satisfaction.  Nor are his pretenses to grandeur or divinity or his obsession with material wealth understandable as primary expressions of sexual, aggressive or acquisitive instincts.  Instead, these perversions of human relatedness are better understood as consequences of traumatic early attachment and their distortions in the development of the self (168).

The “spoiled” child who grows up dependent upon overly-indulgent parents is deprived of the virtures of self-reliance and self-control and the attitudes needed for cooperation with others.  Though he may present a facade of autonomy, he remains pathologically dependent on persons who accommodate him uncritically and thus fails to develop the capacity for self-regulation that is the essence of individuation….Unlike the self-indulgent adult-child, the individuated man actively rejcets, as a moral imperative, any opportunity to dominate, coerce, manipulate or defraud others.  he rejects any such opportunity because his standards of fairness strictly prohibit it, and because any such maneuvers would immediately signify a character weakness of which he would be deeply ashamed (178, 179).

Thanksgiving Trip

I plan to post some photos from our Thanksgiving trip north to my Flickr account.  Many of them are already posted on my Facebook profile.