The SamuraiMarine

Thoughts, Philosophy, Life and Love

Month: February 2008

Where does the sky end?

When we are children, we ask some interesting questions of our parents. I am not certain why, but over this last weekend I remembered one that I asked my father. This was more years ago than I care to mention, but I must have been about six or so. I remember looking out the window and then asking him, “Dad… where does the sky end?”

I cannot recall what prompted the question or where I came up with the concept, though I suspect that it may have something to do with all the reports in the news at the time of the Apollo and Skylab missions. I always did seem to have my head in the stars as I child.

The question itself though, thinking about it now that I am older, and somewhat wiser, is one that could be both a philosophical and astronomical question, but for now, I would like to look beyond the science of the question and look at the meaning that I saw as a child.

We all know that the “sky”, or what we perceive as the sky is nothing more than the affect of the sun’s light being defused by the various components of the atmosphere… oxygen, nitrogen, argon, etc… But when you are a kid, you do not know or care about all that. The sky is something that you see as full of adventure, a place where planes fly to far off lands or battle against other planes, where rockets stab the heavens to go even farther into the sky (for me, as a kid, the sky stopped somewhere past the stars.)

It may sound a little “Norman Rockwellian” but I can recall watching the clouds in the sky and thinking of the shapes that the clouds made. Sometimes animals, sometimes structures, there were even a few times I can recall seeing faces in the clouds thinking that God was drawing pictures for everyone to see. Then there were the nights… Not so much in Taft, the town where I spent part of my childhood, but in Bakersfield, there was a large field behind the complex I lived in. We all called it the “Greenfield”, simply because it was green, and there where no houses or anything there. In reality, it was the corridor for the high voltage towers that fed part of Bakersfield and then went on south to another community. This was where most of my adventures took place until I was about fifteen years old.

I would go out and lay on the grass at night or early evening, and just watch the night sky for hours, sometimes not getting back in until late. This was at the time it was safe to do things like that for a person of my age and not have to worry about anything bad happening. The sky was still pretty clear in the area I lived, back then, and light pollution was still quite low. I would see so far that I started wondering what all was out there, so, like most kids, you start imagining. Because of my mother, I had no illusions about what was in the sky. I understood at a very early age what stars were, and how far away they were, and that there might be other planets just like earth near those stars, but as a child, it is still hard to imagine the sheer enormity of the universe, so in my minds eye, these were all still part of my sky. I would think of the creatures that might be on those planets, and the ships, cars, planes and spacecraft they probably had. Then I would think of what would happen if I ever got to meet one of them someday.

The fantasies I had were only fed further when shows like Space:1999, UFO, BattleStar Galactica and syndication of Star Trek came to television. They fed my desire to imagine what else was out there. Then came Close Encounters, Star Wars, and the Trek Movies. If you ask anyone who knew me at the time, you would probably get a pretty resounding “Sam’s head was always in the clouds” from all of them. It should be noted that I have not changed much… My head is still out there, somewhere. I think if I ever do become completely grounded, then that is about the time I will be pushing up daisies.

So… to the original question that I posed to my father so many years ago; “Where does the sky end?” Unfortunately, he did not have an answer for me. While I loved my father a great deal, he was not the most openly imaginative person. At least not to me… this is not to say he had no imagination, we all do. Sometime we just never find an outlet for, or a way to express it to others, especially our children, in many cases.

Looking back, I do not recall ever asking anyone else this same question, though, as kids, our thoughts are traveling so fast that our mouths can rarely keep pace, and thusly some of what we say or ask gets caught up in the tides of time and drowns. Why this one question stayed with me, I do not know. Maybe the answer that I was looking for was more in what was not said than what was said. Is it possible that, without speaking, and my being too young to understand, that my father DID answer the question? We will never know, I suppose.

Where does the sky end? Why should it? If we look at the question with science, then the sky, as we understand it, only changes from atmosphere to space, but does not really end. If we look at it from the point of imagination, then why should it end? Why can it not go on forever, and take us to other worlds that are only limited to our imagination? I read books like Narnia and the Golden Compass, and I think of what questions inspired those people to write such deep stories. It had to start with something, and maybe it was nothing more than a question to someone’s father or mother, answered or not.

Where does the sky end? It does not… as long as you do not let it end.

Idle thought for the day.

Oskar in repose

Do you thing our pets really know how good they have it?

We have three dogs and two cats, and they are all spoiled. More than likely the reason for this is because we have no kids, so we fill that gap with the pets.

Oskar, the dog in the picture, was our first dog. We are convinced that he is an OCD dog… Obsessive Compulsive for those of you in Rio Linda. He will sit and stare at a toy for however long it takes for someone to try and take it from him. All the while he is watching it, he will sit and grumble at it, then look at you. Finally… if no one plays with him, he will pick the toy up, usually wet with slobber, and drop it on you. He prefers trying to drop it on your face, if you are laying down.

Overall he is very well behaved, and takes most things in stride. He is, by far, the smartest of hour animals.

To watch our pets, it appears to me that they see the entire world, to them, revolves around my wife and I. They need to be where ever we are, and need to feel as if they are part of what we are doing.

The one that tickles me the most, though, is Eliza. If you are a regular reader, then you know that she is our “Special Needs” dog. She has had health issues all her life, and has bonded with me the most, because I was almost always the one to give her her medicine, dress her infections and hold her when she was cold from all the bathing and medicating we had to do to her. Almost anywhere I go in the house, unless she has decided to take a nap, she will follow me. She also REALLY looks like she is trying to understand you when you are talking… whether it is to her, or someone else. She will watch each person talk, and cock her head left and right. Of the three dogs, I think she is the one that, if possible, would most want to be human.

Timmy… What can I say. He had a bad start in life, even for a stray. He went to several homes where he was either abused, or just not wanted. By the time we got him, he was borderline psycho-dog, and would panic if a fly landed on the window in the other room. I have to admit, that there have been several times I lost my temper with him, or have become frustrated with him. Mostly that results in me sending him outside. He has gotten better though, and his hobby now seems to be washing my head. If I sit down or lay down, or anything that gives him easy access, he will start washing my scalp. He will also switch modes very quickly. He can be happy and playing with us, then almost in an instant, he runs away and hides. Nothing in the style of play has changed, but maybe a repressed memory during the game causes him to panic.

I think that we treat our three dogs about the same as people would treat their kids. Oh, sure, you would not want to put a leash on little Billy and feed him dog food, though there are probably parents out there that would, but you see my point. We spoil them, take them with us when we go places, talk to them like they understand or even care what we have to say.

Cats… they are different altogether. They interact with you on their own terms, and if they decide that you are worthy. They only really come to you when they are hungry, if they are bored or if there is nothing better to do. Usually it is at a time when it is least convenient for you, that they decide to socialize. Like when you are watching a movie that is too exciting to break away from, and have to go to the bathroom really bad, then they climb into your lap and decide to make biscuits. That kneading action they do when they are happy, or some other thing like that.

Pets are great… but in looking at them and the affect they have on us, it make you wonder if they really know what they have in us, and also, if they do, if it is us or them that are in control.

A day in the life of Steve, the dysfunctional vampire.

An odd thought came over me today. Not that today is any different than other days, I tend to have odd thoughts most days, just this one seemed odd enough to warrant getting a spot on my blog.

We all hear and see the stories of vampires on TV, in books and on the big screen. They are always portrayed as mysterious and mildly erotic is some cases. What if that was not the case? What if you were to find that becoming a vampire brought with it most of the same problems and issues that you had before you became one of the undead?

Imagine Steve, newly appointed member of the undead… An Anemic, Diabetic and Asthmatic Vampire who also suffers Tourette’s and has a spastic colon. Let’s look at his day to day plight just to make it in this world.

First off, Steve is already disappointed. He had thought that becoming one of the undead would cure him of all his former problems, but alas, it has not. Granted, he does heal much fast than he used to, he is no longer allergic to the twenty-four hour deodorant that he likes, and he never really enjoyed the sunlight, so these were plus’. But the many other health issues that Steve has been plagued with since childhood are still in the way of his successful adventures in vampirism.

First and foremost is his Tourette’s Syndrome, something that gave him many a year of remorse throughout school and work. Since he was bitten and turned into a vampire, his medicine no longer works, and since part of being a successful vampire requires stealth and a hypnotic control over your victim, he was at a loss at to how to achieve this. Nothing is quite as embarrassing as sneaking up on your prey, while asleep, and right before you bite, you release an involuntary string of obscenities into their ear. This has killed the moment for him on many occasions, and he has since resorted to either throwing a heavy object at them from across the room in an attempt to knock them out or using a tazer, which made life for him that much easier.

Still there was the problem of him trying to stay in the shadows and out of site. One of the gifts of his new life was his ability to blend in with his surroundings, however that was offset, again, by the tourette’s. The only amusement that he gained from this was the occasional fight that he would cause when no one could figure out where the verbal assault came from and they would go after the person standing nearest to them.

Another problem with the new life style was his protein rich, liquid diet. He was never what he thought of as squeamish, but the idea of blood as his primary source of food did not really sink in until after the deed was done and he had become a vampire. Unfortunately the conversion process did not come with a manual, and the person that assisted him in this transition was not forthcoming with answers and help in making the move from living to undead. Having suffered IBS and a spastic colon most of his life, the transition to this new diet was not going well for him. In fact he had some of the worst cases of gas, cramps and diarrhea that he had ever experienced in his life. There were even a couple times that he just could not control it and that led to many a close call. Since then, he had learned to start taking massive amounts of fiber and other various supplements, but still never quite getting it under control. The only result of his attempts was gas and cramping and as you might imagine, a flatulent vampire is hard to take seriously in anyone’s book.

Next was the issue of his diabetes… he still had to check his glucose on a regular schedule, but there were times that he would spike and feel sick. He discovered that if he made sure that he traveled at least two miles to each victim, then he could offset the affects of the spikes in his blood sugar, and control it. He also found that if he was lucky enough to find another diabetic, then he could control him levels that way as well. The fall back to the later was that now the city he was living in was in search for what they were calling the “Diabetic Killer.” Though through reading, it appeared they were blaming it on some conspiracy with terrorists and the manufacturer of one of the many testing meters out there, that were going after all their clients. That was fine with Steve… it was easier to buy that than the possibility of a flatulent, diabetic vampire on the loose.

Another plus he had noticed that his asthma had cleared up a little, though he still avoided anything that would require running or jumping. He was glad that vampires could not fly, as depicted in the movies, or he would probably be in a lot more trouble with the asthma. He also noticed that his acne had gotten a little better, though he was still prone to the occasional zit, and he no longer had any complications due to his anemia. So there were some good things that he could see.

Steve attempted to maintain a professional career after his transition, but found that it was just too difficult to do. While he was always a night person, even before he was a vampire, but would still do most of his shopping during the day, especially when he needed staples for the house. Now he was bound to only going out after dark, or dusk at the earliest. While some grocery stores were open, most other places were not, at least not late. Most jobs that Steve was trained in, were not the kind that would allow him to work late nights without occasionally coming into an office during the day, so at first he tried the occasional fastfood jobs, then he worked for bit in a gas station, but then he also found that this cut into his feeding time. Vampirism was not turning out to be the romantic and adventurous life that Steve had expected. Finally, he found a overseas company that would let him work their hours, and being so far removed from them, he could squirrel away a long lunch to go find some poor victim to feed on.

The final thing that bugged him was his newly found, even more abundant lack of anything resembling a social life. It was clear that the raging vampire social scene that the movies had portrayed, just did not exist. There was no club that he went to, there was no dating group, and when he rarely did run into another vampire, it had all the pleasure that a deer must feel in those final moments before it become permanently implanted in the grill of a speeding Peterbuilt hauling twenty tons of fertilizer and the driver having just finished his fifth beer. Even his girlfriend stopped calling him and, in fact, had a Protective Order sworn against him when, in the heat of the moment, he bit off three of her fingers. They were able to reattach them with little problems, but it was decided, both by them and the judge, that they should see other people.

So… here sits Steve… A Vampire… pretty much in the same boat that he was in before he was a vampire. Nope… it was not what he expected, and now the best he could do is wait for the chance encounter with some Van Helsing wannabe to assist him in not being an undead. Until then, he would continue to be Steve… the dysfunctional vampire.

Depression – Reaching out from the dark.

Before I start, I need you, the reader, to understand that this is not a self help guide. It is not meant to be the key to help you out of your problem with depression. This is simply my story of how I cope and what I feel when I fall into my bouts of depression, and the paths I take to try and get out of them. If you do take something away from this that helps you, then I am happy for you and would like you to share your story with me, if you feel comfortable doing so. I just want to make it clear that I am not an expert on depression, nor am I a health professional. Please read this with the understanding that I am sharing my experience in the hope that others might take something from it for themselves.

This is also therapy for me. Talking about a problem I have suffered with for years in a way that others will see can be very liberating. I am sure that there are those out there that will read this and wonder why I am airing my issues, but if even one person out there reads this, and it touches them, then maybe it was worth it.

I cannot say for certain when I first started having depressive bouts, but I am pretty sure it goes all the way back to high school. That in itself should be no surprise to most people, since almost everyone can agree that high school is a harsh place, even for those that do well in school. It is where we first start really learning how popularity and money can divide people into groups. I think everyone experiences a little anxiety or depression in high school simply because they need to learn to fit in to certain cliques, or become outcast.

This is not going to be a “History of Me”, so I am going to concentrate more on the “here and now” and not the “there and then”. Looking at the past, at least in my case, has never been much of a help. Those are all things and times that can not be altered and should not be worried about. What is more important is how I face the future.

Many times when a person says that they are suffering from depression, the first thing people say about it, be it verbally or in their own minds, is “Oh… Get over it.” Too often people see it as just a person feeling sorry for themselves or wanting attention, and they are dismissed. I know this because there have been cases where I have talked to a person that was going through a depressive bout and I have thought that same way about them. When I go through the same bouts and I talk to people, I can see the same thing in their eyes or hear it in their voice. It is not their fault. People who do not suffer from this or who do not understand what it is to go through it, have no way of seeing the world as I do when I am experiencing a bout. In fact, I can say that I am just as guilty because I do not, and cannot, see things the way that another person might when they are going though an episode of depression.

Because, for me, depression is a personal experience, another person cannot understand my process of “going down.” When I am starting down into one of my funks I do not care what a person can tell me or what they try and do to cheer me up. In fact I really cannot see the positive in anything at that point, I just do not care. For me, if I were to use an analogy, it is a dark tunnel that leads nowhere, and only gets darker. That is what I feel when I am in a depressive mood, and the sad part about it is that I usually know when they are starting. This is as frustrating to me, as the person affected, as it is for the few people who know I suffer this problem. Talking is about the only cure or remedy that I know, but the people I talk to have to understand that I am not going to be responsive to their support at first, so all they can do is be there. Even though I may not be interested in what they have to say at the time, and I may not care for their efforts, in the moment, they do help in the long run. Another thing that helps is if they, your friends and family, understand that you suffer from depression in the first place.

I have never shared my problem with depression with my friends, at least not until this blog. I have never felt comfortable with sharing it because I have never wanted the whole “pity parade” that seems to follow people who suffer it. I also know that some of my friends would probably not understand it, especially the ones closer to my own age. This is not meant to offend them, but unless they, too, suffer it, then they would not understand what it is to go through.

In addition to the overall sense of loathing that I feel at the time, one of the hardest parts about depression, for me, is the state of reclusion that I fall into. I want nothing to do with anyone, friends, family, coworkers, etc… and I convince myself that no one wants anything to do with me. I close myself off into what I have termed my “Darkspace”. I cannot bring myself to care about anyone or anything, I have even treated friends and family rudely during these times, and only see the doom and gloom in life. My wife will try and motivate me, but she has learned what I have learned, and that is that I have to find a way out on my own. Reaching out from the dark, as I have titled this article. However, she has always been there when I come out of it.

Another thing about my episodes, is that I can see who I am during and after the attacks. I look back at my latest bout, and I know that it had a negative affect on my job and may have affected my relationships with my friends, and I know that… I also knew that at the time, but could not work my way out of it. You do not want to tell people what you are going through, because at the time, how to you explain it? Where do you start? Can you really, truly, explain what may appear to most as a state of mind? You really cannot tell a person, “Hey, I am depressed right now, I will call you back when I feel better… M’Kay?”

One of the problems with people sharing a problem like this with others, especially in my age group, is that I was raised being that taught you should not share your problems, as I am sure others were as well. You need to hide your troubles away and keep them to yourself and things like depression and openly expressing feelings were a sign of weakness or a liability. This is much like how my father was, at least to me, and many of the male figures in my life, as a child, were much the same. I have worked hard to not be like that over the last several years. Mostly because I knew that I had a problem with depression, and that the best way to help myself was to reach out to those around me.

Since depression affects everyone differently, there is nothing I can say that will be a magic bullet that will help others. What works for me, may not work for you, and you should not expect it to. If you feel that you are suffering from depression, you need to get in to see a doctor as soon as you can. While I choose not to take medicine for mine, because I understand the potential risks in doing so, you may not have that luxury. Depression should never be taken lightly.

In my case, the best thing for me to help me get out of the funk, is writing, woodworking and family. The writing gives me a release, a way to vent and share thoughts and feelings. The woodworking gives me a outlet of creativity and something to accomplish. Family… well that is self explanatory. Your family is potentially the strongest medicine you have, and is not confined to those that share your blood, but those who are close to you. I have several friends that I consider family, and in reality, they are just as much a part of my life as any brother or sister. I may not always express that with them, but I would like to think that they know.

For me… coming out of the funk and haze of depression is like walking into a well lit room after spending a while in a long dark tunnel. There is relief because I, once again, beat it down and took back control of my life. There is also sadness… because you look back, and see the person you were during that time, and the affect you had on others… those you do not know, and those you love.

If you are a religious person, that can help as well. As I have said in a couple of my past writings, there is a lot of good in your belief in god. It helps you find your center and to feel comforted that there is someone watching over you, something greater than you that you are accountable to in the end. If you find yourself in a depressive mood, and you have a Priest, Rabbi, Pastor, etc… that you can talk to, do so. That is another reason they are there, and sometimes it is just nice to talk to someone that is not part of your immediate family. I, personally, use meditation to help… it is like having a nice sit down and chat with yourself… but sometimes you may not like what you have to say, and that helps too. If you never get to know yourself, then you may never get over it.

In closing… depression is hard to get through. I will not lie to you about that, you sometimes feel like there is no way out and that nothing you do is worth anything. You may even get to the point were you are certain that no one is there for you, but none of that is true. You have to tell yourself to live above that, live above yourself. You can get through it and you can get back to being the person you, your family and other people like you to be. You just have to take it one step at a time… that is what I do. This is no different than what they teach you in a twelve-step program. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other, and one day at a time.

I hope that some of what I said can give someone a little guidance.

You are more than welcome to comment, but as I said toward the beginning of this… I am not a professional in this field. I will not offer any advice, other than to tell you that you should see a professional.

What people go through for a cigarette.

I have never really understood smoking.

I mean, I understand it from a physiological point of view in how it affects the body and the addiction it creates, that part is pretty easy to figure out. What I am talking about is the extremes that people will go through just so that they CAN smoke.

Before I go any further, this is not an article that condemns smoking. It is your body, do with it what you like. I think that you should be able to smoke, if you like, without having to worry about other people harassing you or otherwise giving you remorse. The only thing I will insert to that is to be respectful of those around you when you do smoke, that you are not violating THEIR airspace with your smoke.

That being said… let us proceed.

As I write this, I think about the time my mother came down to visit from Alaska. My mother started smoking when she was about 14, I think, but she was young when she first picked up her first smoke. Over the course of her life, there were only two times she stopped smoking. The first time was when she was pregnant with me, then the second was when she was pregnant with my brother. Both times, as she explains it, she suddenly could not stand the taste or smell of cigarettes, and even went so far as to scrub the house from stem to stern to get the smell out.

She was never what I would call a chain smoker, like my father could be occasionally. No… She would smoke her smoke, and then there would be a couple hours or so before she would light up again.

When She came down from Alaska, though, we let her know that she could not smoke in the house. We did not smoke, and we did not like the smell of smoke. So she agreed and would take her cigarettes outside and smoke. She would do this in the rain, in the freezing cold, in the fog… you name it.

It always struck me as funny that people would brave the elements to go out and have a smoke.

As time went on, this caused me to really pay attention to other people smoking. Once I noticed a cluster of people, maybe five or six, huddled under an awning smoking while it was pouring rain. there did not look to be enough room for them all, but they were managing it. I would be surprised if someone did not end up with a burn in their shirt or sweater, though.

Here are people, braving the weather and the chance of a cold, or worse, to smoke a cigarette. Like I said earlier, I do not know, first hand, the feeling of needing a cigarette, so I have to wonder if the need overrides common sense. Do people working in places like the south pole (McMurdo and the like) do when they get the urge, or do they just learn to not smoke while they are down there.

I sometime wonder if smoking is a sort of social sport, of sorts. Many times people go smoking together and talk while they are at it. At the place I work, I usually see the smokers all migrate to the smoking area at the same time, and you can tell when they are out there, because there is this odd gray cloud over the back of the building. What makes this even more amusing is that when non-smokers walk past, they all seem to get quiet. Like there is a plot afoot or something.

Like I said, I have nothing against smokers… it is their life and body to do with as they please.

Dunkin’ Donuts coffee – A Review

The following is based on my personal experience with the coffee mentioned. The author is in no way defaming the Dunkin’ Donuts name, or discouraging you, the reader, from buying said product and developing your own opinion.

The Wife and I have been seeing all the hype and the commercials about Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, and how good it is supposed to be, so much, that we finally decided that if we happened to stumble across a bag, we would go ahead and buy it.

So we were in Vons the other night and we saw that they had bags and bags of the stuff. I looked for, and found, the Medium Roast whole bean coffee, adding this to the cart we made our purchases and went home in anticipation of this new taste we were about to experience.

That evening I ground the beens, and brewed a pot. Let me divert for a moment and express that I have always liked my coffee strong, Marine Coffee, my wife likes to call it. I will usually put 14 cups worth of grounds into the filter for a 12 cups pot. So I did this for our first pot of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.

After the brewing process, I looked at the pot. Not only could you see through the pot, but it looked no stronger than a pot of hot tea. Figuring that maybe the taste would still be there, I poured a cup and tasted. Almost entire not quite unlike real coffee… In other words, it was bad. Thinking that I must have just ground it wrong, I poured it out and ground another batch, this time I set the grinder for 18 cups.

The result was tolerable, but still awful weak. I only drank about one cup, and I still had to reheat that one a couple time, it took me so long to drink.

The next day I ground another batch, this time on the finest setting, and 18 cups. For good measure, no pun intended, I ground an additional four cups worth and poured it in with the rest. Once again the coffee was passable… but not what I would consider as something I would buy again.

So… I dumped the remaining grounds and had my wife, the next time she went to the store, but another bag of a different brand… the initials are SB… and once again I am happily drinking a coffee that does not require me to grind half the bag to get a decent cup.

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