Father’s Day–Then and Now


Perhaps a Father’s Day celebration occurred in my childhood home, but if it did, I don’t recall. I was seven when he died of cancer. Not sure how long he suffered with it; that could have precluded that special recognition.

Trophies stretched across our mantel, over the unused fireplace. Richard Q. Maberry, first or second place in this tournament or that, the placards said, underneath the figure with the paddle. I never saw him playing table tennis; those days ended before my birth. Nor did I see him on skis, jumping from the ramp at Theodore Wirth Park in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. He earned trophies for that too. Already 41 by the time of my arrival, he had hung up the skis and the paddle by then. Time for the more sedate sport—fishing.

Crosslake is one of the few memories of him I have. Memories wrapped in sights, sounds and smells. Trolling for the abundant pike dwelling in the lake’s cold, deep water. Sun sparkling brightly, bending this way and that atop low waves brought by warm breezes. A small outboard pushing the 14-foot aluminum boat along—first toward the dam and then back toward the dock, pulling multi-hooked and brightly painted wooden lures just below the surface. The odd, distinctive smell of the motor’s gasoline exhaust filtered through the lake water. Other times he cast a line from the shore, hoping to hook some crappies.

The lake house was his father’s, a place where his brothers and my cousins also appeared during the short but warm Minnesota summer. His anger flashed at a much older cousin on one occasion, when he carelessly cast from the shore beside us, hooking the seat of my pants on the backswing.

I’m like my father in some ways, or so people tell me. It’s not appearance, it’s mannerisms and jokes, I suppose. I’m as irreverent a smart ass as was he, they say. I wish he had been around longer, for me to get to know him better and vice versa. He would be well over 100 if he were alive today. But even another 15 years would have put me in my 20s. Still, he had an influence on me, as seen through the eyes of others.


My son will attain the same 41 years this fall that my father was when I was born. Irony? Our daughter is nearly three years younger. Like most American families, I suspect, mom got the gifts and arranged Father’s Day for some years. Later on, they advanced to getting or making their own.

To be certain of our choice for a dream home location, my wife and I spent the summer of 2008 in New Mexico. The kids, no longer children at 22 and 25, had other things with which to occupy themselves at home. They remembered Father’s Day; sending a card and calling. What a change from a few years before! But we will let that be; if you have or had teenagers, you’ll understand.

My son lives in the same town as us, so we get together on all the holidays–Mother’s and Father’s Days, birthdays, etc. We will again this June. Our daughter has been elsewhere, outside the US for several years and still  is elsewhere. So it goes, as Billy Pilgrim says in Slaughterhouse Fivebut my words are not quite so dark as the meaning in Vonnegut’s award winning work.

Have the happiest and most wonderful occasion this Father’s Day, if it applies to you.

War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things

This is a repost that didn’t get much attention the first time around so here it is again, edited just a bit.

BTW: Please check out Jumped by a Deadly Cholla, a collection of speculative fiction posted on my writing blog–if you haven’t already.

If you were around during the Vietnam War, maybe you remember that oft seen refrain in the title above. It was on posters and elsewhere.

There really is no good war. Some religions say there are at least just ones. Others deny that principle. People can certainly extend one-to-one self defense to defense of a community or a nation. Inevitably, however, innocents suffer. So do the people fighting in wars. Regardless, there will be much death and suffering.

Today, as much other times, war is raging across the world. No need to mention locations; you know where they are. 

Soldiers who fight in war see and do terrible, inhuman deeds. They suffer PTSD from the memories they relive at prompts that occur in daily life. So do the survivors of the war—those who lost friends and loved ones or were themselves victims. It used to go by other names, shell shock, war neurosis and more. It’s all the same and not just from war-related events—rape, murder, and more. But let’s move on to the point of this post.

I didn’t suffer PTSD after a year in Vietnam—I wasn’t in combat, nor did I witness it directly. I came close, but not close enough. My brothers had far different wartime experiences than me—and each other—during the Korean War. Both were in the Marines—one drafted and the other called back up after a prior enlistment. The draftee served as a radar operator in Hawaii for two years. The older one saw combat as a platoon sergeant—spending time in the Chosin Reservoir—a grim battle. The former suffered not at all, of course. The older one became an alcoholic. The first had a family and retired from a successful career at a major American corporation.

If I were Derek, the protagonist of my time-travel novel, or had his capacity, could I go back and perform a reset on my deceased oldest brother? What might he have accomplished had he not died of a heart attack at 48? He was overweight, a smoker and a 20-plus year alcoholic that drank a fifth of whisky each day. He had a brief stint of sobriety lasting nearly two years before relapsing. He had a girlfriend from the past who he reunited with during the booze break. They might have married had he never used tobacco and alcohol to mediate memories of life at war—and the nearly simultaneous death of our father from cancer.

I don’t know, today, what his life might have been. I won’t know next month or next year. But I will write about it. Perhaps in the Derek novel, with some changes to my brother’s circumstances and connection to me (writing from life, but NOT a memoir). Or I might come up with an answer in the Buddhist fiction series that I will start sooner. Consider the correlation of changing one’s life through Buddhism with that of meddling with the past via time travel. In Buddhism, one creates karma through thought, word and deed. Simply, one makes causes that inscribe potential results in one’s life. Karma is not predestination. It’s constantly changing as one makes good causes and bad causes. Not only that, but the Buddhism which I practice enables one to eradicate (or change) negative karma. We have described how in other posts.

In the meantime, here’s a brief explanation. Let’s say you did something years ago that you regret. Something that could get you fired, end a relationship, make you sick, etc. You can’t change what you did. But, you can lessen or erase entirely the effects of such karma through connecting with your Buddha nature and the karmic storage in your life.

Not quite traveling through time, but the result is the same as going back and not doing what you did.

Ireland Part Two–More Great Sights

Irelandanother land of enchantment 

We live in New Mexico, known as the land of enchantment. Ireland is a bit greener. Beguiling in its own way with some great sights.  

We return to our travel feature on Day Five of our journey.  “Jerry from Derry” dominated the day. A voluble guy, Jerry relished his retirement job of regaling tourists with the history of Ireland. We had to ask if he had been a history professor. But no, he said, he just had an interest in learning about the place he called home. Jerry spent well over an hour offering a political and cultural history of not just Derry but most of Ireland. After leaving employment with the City Council, he became a local guide. That enabled him to give us a tour of the Guild Hall (despite it being closed)—where the Council meets, and exhibits may be found. Exhibits such as a statue of Queen Victoria, her hands missing; those were blown off by a bomb in 1972 during “The Troubles.”

Stained glass windows with historical images
A few of the many windows displaying Irish history over centuries

Note the stained glass windows in the main hall. They were all replaced after the bombing, Jerry informed us. The images depict the political and religious history of Ireland—kings and queens, conquerors, and more. Jerry used those to provide us the details of who lived in Ireland when, who fought whom, who was on which throne, etc.

Then there’s the issue of the name—Derry or Londonderry. Political or religious? Far be it from me, an American, to wade in on this topic. Our driver said it was mostly religious. Our Belfast guide said political. So, it’s Nationalist versus Unionist or Catholic versus Protestant. You can enjoy Ireland without getting involved in such matters. Wherever you’re from, there’s enough to worry about back home. Of course, if you have Irish ancestors, you may want to get into this; mine are way too far back to go there. Jerry’s hour-plus talk was enlightening. We must confess, without taking notes or recording it, we can’t remember all the details.

Day Six, a bit of traveling. Enroute to Sligo Abbey, we stopped at the grave and headstone of WB Yeats—Nobel Prize-winning Irish writer and poet. Writers and poets are one of Ireland’s biggest treasures. Here’s the headstone, with the author’s own epitaph inscribed on it.

The author and his wife at the tombstone of W.B. Yeats
“Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman, pass by.”

Sligo Abbey, built circa 1252, has some issues. A metal plaque explains that the Dominican Priory was endowed by Maurice Fitzgerald, founder of Sligo. The original structure was accidentally burned in 1414. Then damaged in the siege of 1595, and ruined by Hamilton’s Army in 1614. What remains today dates from the 13th and 14th centuries. Other historic buildings in Ireland have fared better and some worse.

The author checking the printed guide to part of the Sligo Abbey before him
Some writer/blogger with a pony tail looking at the map of this part of Sligo Abbey

We arrived midafternoon at Ashford Castle, a five-star hotel/resort at which we would spend two nights. Sleeping, that is, and dining at three of their restaurants. Much to do there that we didn’t have time for. We mostly ate and slept, but did walk the lovely grounds admiring the gardens.

Woman in a trellised garden
That’s her in one of many garden elements on the huge acreage at Ashford

One can try falconry. Play golf. Ride horseback. Indulge in a spa and more.  Bar none, the most luxurious place Juanita and I ever stayed.

One part of the Ashford Castle lobby with a knight's armor, fine wood décor and a deer sculpture
One side of the Ashford lobby

It’s an 800-year-old castle—but you wouldn’t know that to look at it. Of course, it has been upgraded over the centuries—especially in the last one.

A small corner of Ashford Castle, opposite Lough Corrib
A small corner of the castle; the windows look across a large yard toward Lough [Lake] Corrib
We had a late lunch on arrival in the well-appointed bar. We talked with two women at the next table; they said they stay there every year. A bit beyond our normal travel budget, although a manager gave us a free upgrade to a junior stateroom. Thankfully, the tour company get’s an unknown (to us) discount for bookings.

Day Seven, fitting perhaps, we went straightaway from the castle to Kylemore Abbey. It looked nothing like the former priory at Sligo. This one is in excellent condition. Built in the 1860s by wealthy politician Mitchell Henry as an estate, it became a home for a Benedictine order of nuns in 1920. It has a Neo Gothic church, built as a memento to his deceased wife—not quite the Taj Mahal, but reminiscent of a Roman Catholic cathedral. You could also walk the gardens, shop the craft store, have lunch and more. The “craft” store actually has some fine woolens, classy apparel and good souvenirs.

A tour of the grounds is a highly recommended attraction. Not for us on our visit; too rainy. We limited our tour to the building that exhibited the living area of the original owner/builder. As opulent as might be expected, it also has an historical presentation of the current tenants–the Benedictine order.

An historically accurately furnished luxurious late 19th or early 20th room in the Mitchell home at Kylemore
A well-furnished room in the Mitchell Henry home at Kylemore from a by-gone era

From Kylemore, we traveled  farther west to Clifden,   With about 1,600 people, it’s the biggest town in Connemara. A popular tourist stop–see the photo.  We had lunch in a local pub. There we picked up conversations in French among four to five people at the next table. Lots of foreign folks visit. The Republic of Ireland remains in the EU; easy access from elsewhere in Europe.

Many cars parked at angles to curbs in the Irish town of Clifden
We didn’t do much shopping here; just looked around and had lunch

Back to Ashford Castle for our second night, with dinner in the Henry V dining room. Jackets are required for male diners. The next morning, we were there again for breakfast—when jackets are no longer needed.

A table for two in the Henry V dining room in Ashford Castle
We had breakfast and dinner in the Henry V room. Jackets required for gentleman in the evening. We sat at a table with a better view than this one at our two meals therein

Day Eight, a half-day’s drive to the Cliffs of Moher. Another famous outdoors location. Busy even in early May. Historical displays on the topography are found in a visitor center, along with some simple meals in a couple of cafes. Just before the visitor center are some tiny gift shops of Irish memorabilia. More “official” stores can be found indoors.

The tall Cliffs of Moher, buffeted by Atlantic waves
Swimming at the base of the Cliffs is strongly discouraged

Long paths extend in either direction along the cliffs high above the ocean. Those so inclined can hike long distances. We chose the northerly route, with the choice of steps or simple paving. The latter affords the option of golf carts to take one up to the top where O’Brien’s Tower awaits.

People walking along a high atop the Cliffs of Moher
A view from O’Brien’s Tower of people walking a cliff-top path, extending afar

My knees were fine this day, so I did the double circular staircase to the top of the tower. Note, however, the view is often better from the ground because the stone ports atop the tower are thick and narrow–like gun slots. Still, the cropped image above was taken through one of the windows. Below is the interior of the tower. Note the staircase to the left.

Inside O'Brien's Tower, with a staircase seen through a doorway to the left
The interior of the tower; see the base of staircase to the left

Had to include this picture. No, the dog is NOT stuffed nor an available souvenir statue. It is a living breathing shop greeter. A little dog sits placidly atop a pillow in a shop at the Cliffs of Moher You won’t believe it, but the cute little terrier is alive

We had a quick lunch at the Cliffs before departing to the Great Southern Killarney—yes, named after a railway. We had dinner and spent the night at this older hotel. A popular golfing location it seems, as a waiter’s discussion with another patron suggested. The diner told the curious server that he  had a fifth day of 18-holes the next day before heading back to the US.

Day Nine was the great scenic journey—all the way round the Ring of Kerry. A challenge for our tour company and the driver they assigned.  The route is 179 km or 119 miles. Narrow roads and quaint little villages with names like Sneem—neat and painted in vivid colors. A tricky drive with the tour buses that may or may not be going in the opposite direction.

Charlie Chaplin spent many sixties summers in the tiny seaside town of Waterville with his wife Oona. With a maiden name of O’Neill, no surprise they did. The town put up this bronze in front of Ballinskelligs Bay.

A bronze statue of Charlie Chaplin in front of Ballinskelligs Bay
Here’s Charlie and a plaque in his honor to the left

For a better view of the bay, our driver took us up a hill overlooking the tiny village of  462 people. As with other photos of the two of us, he took the picture. All part of the Wild Atlantic Way as it’s called in Ireland.

We stand in parking area for the view of the Atlantic
Too windy for hats; the bay behind us and the other side is a lake and a river
Waiting for his order to arrive at a local cafe
Waiting patiently for my order

Next a stop for lunch and shopping in Kenmare, our last stop along the Ring of Kerry. A much larger town of nearly 2,400 people. It’s worth a stop. It has a wide choice of food and many items you might decide to bring home. We bought some apparel in a Fat Face shop, a UK chain. We ate in a comfortable café called Davitts.

On to our next hotel, the Montenotte a short way to the east of downtown Cork. Another luxury location with a great view of the River Lee. A better look can be had of its own gardens, from within the restaurant or on the open air terrace. [Note that smoking is permitted on the terrace]. The food and service are good.

A view of the gardens and the Cork skyline
The gardens at the Montenotte and some of Cork’s skyline

Day Ten, we toured Kilkenny Castle in the namesake medieval city. The structure has stood for over 800 years, with various modifications over the centuries. If you click on the website, you can find the details of recent (last 200 years) changes.  Its worth a visit. Within are ancient tapestries and pictures of the various royals who once inhabited the place. Look but don’t touch, from behind ropes. No flash photography either; the paintings and tapestries are very old and can’t take the bright light. There are three floors and a basement which includes a small café, bathrooms and an exhibit of latter day art work.

A large gallery room with paintings on the length of the side walls. A sloped glass ceiling lights the room

The Picture Gallery in the East Wing of the castleWe spent our last night in one of two Radisson Blue hotels—this one downtown rather than the airport. Ill timing, as an event had the main dining area reserved. We got dinner at the bar/bistro. Our driver aided our departure the day before by getting us to a COVID testing station. For those of you who may be traveling to the US from overseas and perhaps other locations as well, that entry requirement of a negative test is no longer required. Against the time zones, no red eye this time; just a late arrival at our home destination.

There’s much to see in Ireland that we missed this time. Like the Torc Waterfall near Killarney. Also Skellig Michael that has steps to an ancient monastery. Steps that you might have seen in Star Wars Episode VII “The Force Awakens” or Episode VIII “The Last Jedi.”  It can be reached by a tour boat. Perhaps we’ll run into you. You may recognize us from the photos here. Say hello if you do.

Lastly, an update on medical news. As we said in the first post on the anniversary trip, we NEVER give up. Before more travels across an ocean,  I’ll be getting some treatment for that prostate cancer. Gleason score 9, the biopsy said. Ten is the highest—and worst. Thankfully, a bone scan showed no signs of it spreading–yet.

Oh, but a bit of a wrinkle–the local hospital oncology crew are contractors, whose term is set to expire August 31 and a new group is set to take over September 1.  So no new patients right now. Thankfully, the current group gave me a hormone shot to slow down the cancer. Androgen deprivation usually comes after treatment–not before. But wait, there’s more. The negotiations broke down; no new group and the current doctors deal  is being extended–possibly up to a year! Complicated for the hospital, but great for me.

 The power of prayer—our Buddhist daimoku, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo means I can get treatment here–sooner than mid to late September. That will be either external beam radiation or proton therapy. No surgery. No chemo. But five days a week for several weeks, 30 minutes or less. Well, actually the proton therapy would be at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix–depending on a Zoom interview on August 10. There’s an extended stay hotel with patient discounts on the medical campus that even allows pets. Maybe home every night or gone for weeks. We’ll know soon.

Faith and physicians; an excellent combination. It’s important to have faith in something. Something that superficially seems to be outside yourself but is also within oneself. Plus, trust in friends who share and support the profound connection between mind and body. Whether you place any faith in Buddhism or not—you can take this scientific truth: Stress elevates cortisol levels, which in turn diminish the immune system. Calm and relaxed confidence restores and elevates it. Happiness more so. The mind and my Buddhist practice are not sufficient; they’re just multipliers to the medical treatment.

Never Give Up

Where Have We Been?

Not on Views lately, but back for now.

Got home from Dublin, Ireland in May, this year. An anniversary trip set for 2020 came in 2022 instead. Pandemics happen. We had planned on Iceland, Norway and Northern Ireland in  celebration of our 40th. We’d visit ancestral beginnings, plus beautiful scenery. Game of Thrones filming sites too. Nordic venues were refunded. Couldn’t get refunds for Northern Ireland; it got rolled over–twice.

We were frustrated, but never gave up. It’s a faith thing with us. Buddhists see obstacles in daily life as opportunities. As COVID waned, we made new plans. We dropped Iceland and Norway, but added the Republic of Ireland. Brendan Vacations filled out a trip with additional stops.

Posts have been few and far between this year, with a collection of short stories dragging on interminably. Mental fatigue often hampers my creative process. Must be karma; my doctor has no explanation (it’s NOT Alzheimer’s). Nichiren, the founder of our Buddhist philosophy, says be the master of your mind–not the other way around. Still working on that. Meanwhile, manuscripts were sent to beta readers before leaving on the trip.

One more problem came up in March; my PSA score went way up. Prostate cancer runs in my family. We drove to Tucson in April, 200 miles from our home in New Mexico. I saw a top urologist on my 75th birthday. Probably cancer he said. Take the trip, and get tests afterward was his advice. We stayed for dinner and a movie. The Lost City was hilarious—a mix of romcom with suspense. An odd birthday.

I got an MRI three days after getting back from Ireland. The scan suggested a high likelihood of cancer, but the tumor hadn’t spread anywhere. A biopsy comes July on Thursday the 7th. Will it confirm malignancy?  If so, we expect more frequent driver miles to Tucson. If benign, not sure what’s next. We’re not worried–there’s our Buddhist practice to change this karma. Then there’s the advances in medicine since my father died in the 1950s and my brother’s prostate removal 24 years ago. He’s 92 now.

Enough of that; what about the trip?

We enjoyed our delayed anniversary trip without worries or thoughts about cancer. Smooth flying all the way. We were in Delta One class (international business) on the overnight flight to Dublin. The seats lie flat.  

Ireland is a leafy land of green  from north to south. Cities with plenty to see–more than what we could  do in the ten days we had signed up for. Quaint villages  with small shops painted in varied colors between one historic or special attractions or another. A very neat and clean country, with no littering in sight.  We chose a tour package that included a chauffeur. More freedom without bus group constraints–PLUS a personal guide

We stayed in plush hotels, had memorable meals and superior service. The experiences were unlike any we had ever had before. We have had some wonderful vacations over the years—this one was the best!

Day one, jet lag and all, we went to University of Dublin’s Trinity College—home to the Book of Kells and 200,000 ancient books in a two-story library. For a modest fee you get entry and headphones keyed to the items on exhibit. We wandered about Dublin for a bit. The nearby St. Stephens Green is an urban park with a pond, walking trail and various birds. We walked Grafton Street—home to international shops (we didn’t go inside; too pricey). But do try the Brooks Hotel if you wish to stay in boutique luxury in center city.

One of the exhibits at Trinity College

Day two, it was off to Newgrange in County Meath. Stooping and sidewise at times, we walked through a narrow passage into a 5,200 year-old tomb. It’s corbeled stone roof still doesn’t leak after 5,000 years! While we were there, grass atop the Neolithic dome was being trimmed by a remotely controlled mower. The structure is 43,500 square feet. No photos are allowed within, but you can see some on the website. By design, dawn’s light illuminates the back wall sixty feet from the box above the entry—but only on the Winter Solstice.

Here’s what it looks like from the outside. Note the spirals cut in the stone. The wintry light comes in above the corbel, which is five feet from the ground–duck your head to enter.

Newgrange Neolithic tomb passageway
Neolithic tomb entry

We moved on, up the Antrim Coast, crossing the gateless border into Northern Ireland. We stopped at the Winterfell (Game of Thrones) archery range to nock and loose a few arrows at more modern targets. We arrived in time for dinner at the Titanic Hotel Belfast at the historic harbor that launched the doomed ship. We spent two nights at this convenient and modern hotel.

Day Three, after a buffet breakfast at the hotel, we toured the spectacularly modern Ulster Museum. Six floors of an eclectic collection ranging of art, natural history, and much more. Do check out the website; you might enjoy visiting. Our feet got tired doing just a part of it. The institution includes a café with hot and packaged food, coffee or tea, etc. It even has a willow version of the Game of Thrones dragons, shown below.

Willow construction flying dragons hanging from the ceiling of the Ulster Museum
From the sixth floor of the museum

Back to the hotel, where a local guide joined us in a tour around town.  We learned more from her about the politics of the city than anything else. After dropping off our guide, our driver had his own perspective that differed from the “expert.” Is it politics or religion that divides the city? Probably a combination of both. Sinn Fein won the 2022 parliamentary election. Remains to be seen how it goes with the UK’s Brexit protocol. The Republic of Ireland remains in the EU and many in the North would prefer that as well.

We finished the day with a self-guided audio tour of the Titanic. The nine-story building covers the design, building and launch of the ship with mockups of the first class cabins and much more. Like the barefoot children who were among the workers at the turn of the 20th century. Belfast was a major shipbuilding port from the late 1800s into the early 20th century.

Day four found us on more visits to Game of Thrones filming locations. The places are known for much more than the series. We stopped first at The Dark Hedges, which served as the Kings Road, along which Arya Stark escaped Kings Landing dressed as a boy. Yes, a cool and drizzly day while at the Dark Hedges.

My wife and I on the Dark Hedges road on a drizzly day

In truth, the 17th century trees are a little disappointing today—perhaps a little less of them remain. Undoubtedly, the production process for television used replication and CGI to make it appear there were more of them and looking  darker than they are. Still, if you’re a GOT fan, how could you not walk the road between them?

While in County Antrim, we detoured to Ballymoney. That’s where my seventh great-grandfather was born about 1688. A blacksmith there and in Maine as well when he emigrated about 1730. A tiny museum located within in Ballymoney’s town hall had nothing on my blacksmith ancestor. Still a pleasant place to stop with lots of brochures and information on other areas.

Next stop–the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We marveled at the unique cylindrical stone slabs of basalt, raised by long ago vulcanism. Northern Ireland delights in regaling visitors with the mostly mythical Finn McCool. He is credited, variously, with:

  • Being a giant
  • Putting down the slabs to make bridge to Scotland
  • Throwing them in anger
  • Challenging or being challenged by a fellow giant from Scotland

The well-equipped visitor center explains it all—both McCool and scientifically. You must pre-book your visit; you can do so online (our tour company did this for us). Included is a handheld audio device keyed to stops along a paved path to the slabs. Of course, you will find some nice gifts for sale there. A cafeteria serves packaged food as well. Note: the trail is wheelchair accessible; additionally those in need of such can be transported by small buses to the primary locations.

A pile of Causeway slabs busy with people
None of them is us, but lots of brave–or bold people; dark slabs have recently been wet

We managed the long walk unaided, shedding hats and warmer wear as the trek heated us up. If you visit, do step carefully on the stones. Slippery when wet applies–especially near the shore where a slip into the ocean could be quite hazardous.

Woman sitting on a slab at the Giant's Causeway
That’s my wife atop stones of the Giant’s Causeway

From there, we backtracked to Ballintoy Harbor. There are ladders from water level that likely varies with the tide and provides tie-ups for boats. Around the corner from the narrow docking area  is the rocky coastline that you might easily recognize as the Iron Islands from Game of Thrones. Did Theon Greyjoy get dunked in his baptismal ritual here? Maybe they used a greenscreen pool instead.

Despite air temperatures in the mid sixties, we watched a middle-aged man toweling off after a dip in an undoubtedly colder Atlantic in early May. We compared notes with a visitor from nearby, who needed a break from the available trails. Had we been up to it, which we weren’t, we had no time for a hike along an uneven rocky path in any case.

The rocky coastline of Ballintoy
Can you see Theon Greyjoy?

We had dinner and spent the night at the Salthouse, a three-year-old resort on the northern Atlantic shore in Ballycastle—a very fine new place. The only hotel we actually chose from Brendan’s thick brochure. All good for the occasion.

We will save the remaining days for another post. For now, let’s add some backstory.

We chatted with Irish locals and fellow tourists as well as we passed through exhibits, or paused to shop or take a break. People at ease are open to conversation about life—and sometimes Buddhism. Our driver gave us a history of Irish locales we passed through. In turn, we discussed our lives as Buddhists in America, including my cancer and other health issues.

With age comes various illnesses. I take Eliquis to prevent a stroke from AFIB. I am chanting to end that problem. I haven’t had an episode of irregular heartbeat in twelve months. Like my deceased mother, I also have asthma. Dulera, a puffer keeps that away most of time. A CPAP machine controls sleep apnea. Mastery of the mind for writing is the main thing–after the prostate.

Practicing Nichiren Buddhism doesn’t mean a life without problems; it means they can be overcome or transcended. Chanting doesn’t eliminate the need for medicine or doctors—it helps find the best of both. But a great doctor isn’t enough, one must also be an excellent patient. Our mentor, Daisaku Ikeda, says this in Unlocking the Mysteries of Life and Death:

“Buddhism views illness as an opportunity to attain a higher, nobler state of life. It teaches that, instead of agonizing over a serious disease, or despairing of ever overcoming it, we should use illness as a means to build a strong, compassionate self, which in turn will make it possible for us to be truly victorious. This is what Nichiren meant when he stated, ‘Illness gives rise to the resolve to attain the way.’ “

Cancer is just one more thing; it doesn’t worry us. We will be truly victorious over it—and the mind as well. We must. Here’s what we still hope to get done this year:

  • At least ONE book–preferably two
  • Views posts in the coming weeks on–
    • The US Supreme Court has gone rogue—a legal analysis
    • Fathers Day—making the most of memories
    • Juneteenth and being Woke—yes, some reflections on political/historical reality
    • January 6, 2021—America’s insurrection continued through hearings and more
    • Importance of preventive screening—caught early, many cancers are not fatal
  • Fresh fiction and snippets of stories to come on Johns Writing too

BTW: If you do decide to fly Delta One and it’s on a wonderful Airbus 330-300, use the head pillow for your bottom and a neck pillow for your head. Or bring a smallish body pillow. The seats aren’t that soft for sleeping on. However, there are amazing controls for adjusting the seatback, footrest, and more. You can move the various components  forward/back/up/down.

© John Maberry

Rural or Small Town Life–Pluses and Minuses

Forget warranties if you’re far from an urban area. Several years ago, we had an otherwise great TV from Samsung. They promise in-house service if a widescreen TV has a problem. What the warranty doesn’t say, not even in small print, is that if you’re not within 200 miles of an authorized service facility you’re out of luck. This 65-inch television failed early on. That’s when we learned that little catch-22. Through a series of escalating calls to Samsung, over the course of eight weeks, we eventually got a check for the price of the television. Not a repair, not a replacement. The next one was NOT a Samsung. In the meantime, we bought a small (37 inches) replacement for temporary use. It’s available for guest room use should we ever need it.

Last year, our LG refrigerator (one that’s supposed to be very reliable) failed after eight years. It’s frustrating to not have a working television. It’s way more difficult not having a refrigerator and having to keep buying ice for coolers to keep things cold. A repair guy (local, not LG) said the cost of fixing it would cost nearly as much as a new one. We picked a new fridge from websites. Unfortunately, nobody would deliver to our small town. Well, Sears would—in three weeks. I ordered one from Best Buy in Las Cruces—two hours away. I rented a U-Haul truck to get it home. More than a little challenging to get it from the truck into the house.

Ok, we knew it would be a long trek for flying anywhere living in a small town. As we like to describe our location—“in the middle of nodamnwhere.” You give up lots of stores for things that you don’t need often. That includes major appliances. But you don’t expect that you can’t get repairs for them or that you must find a way to get them home. Still, living in a small town offers things cities don’t—like no traffic. Less stress. More property with better views for less money. Friendly people. Peace and quiet without:

  • Weed whackers
  • Leaf blowers
  • Barking dogs
  • Loud neighbors
  • Delivery trucks
  • And much more

Just remember, the big corporations may have lots of products to sell you—they really don’t care about keeping you happy. Local stores do. They need repeat customers. Multinationals—not so much. But we’re not leaving. We have our dream house high atop a hill with a great view. With the good comes the bad.

Changing What Might Have Been

War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things

If you were around during the Vietnam War, maybe you remember that oft seen refrain. Posters, bumper stickers and more. There really is no good war. Some religions say there are just ones–not necessarily good. Inevitably, the innocents suffer. So do the people fighting in them. Oh, it is true that collectively there may be self defense—as in one-to-one self defense when one is attacked, instead, defense of a community or a nation.

Soldiers who fight in war see and do terrible, inhuman deeds. They suffer PTSD from the memories they relive at prompts that occur in daily life. So do the survivors of the war—those who lost friends and loved ones or were themselves victims. It used to go by other names, shell shock, war neurosis and more. It’s all the same and not just from war-related events—rape, murder, and more.

I didn’t suffer PTSD after a year in Vietnam—I wasn’t in combat nor did I witness it. I came close, but not close enough. My brothers had far different experiences from me during the Korean War. One served as a radar operator in Hawaii for two years. The other saw combat as a platoon sergeant in Korea. The former suffered not at all, of course. The other became an alcoholic. The first had a family and retired from a successful career at a major American corporation.

Time for another visit with Derek. If I were Derek, could I go back and perform a reset on my deceased oldest brother? What might he have accomplished had he not died of a heart attack at 48? Overweight, a smoker and a 20-plus-year alcoholic that drank a fifth of whisky each day. He had a brief stint of sobriety lasting nearly two years before relapsing. He had a girlfriend from the past who he reunited with during the booze break. They might have married had he never used tobacco and alcohol to mediate memories of life at war—and the nearly simultaneous death of his father from cancer.

I don’t know, today, what his life might have been. I won’t know next month or next year. But I will write about it. Perhaps in the Derek novel, with some changes to my brother’s circumstances and connection to me. Or I might come up with an answer in the Buddhist fiction series that I will start sooner. Consider the correlation of changing one’s life through Buddhism with that of meddling with the past via time travel. In Buddhism, one creates karma through thought word and deed. In other words, one makes causes that inscribe potential results in one’s life. Karma is not predestination. It’s constantly changing as one makes good causes and bad causes. Not only that, but the Buddhism which I practice enables one to eradicate (or change) negative karma. We have described how in other posts.

In the meantime, here’s a brief explanation. Let’s say you did something years ago that you regret. A deed that might result in loss of a job, a breakup of a relationship, a health problem, etc. You can’t change what you did. You can lessen or erase entirely the effects of such karma through connecting with your Buddha nature and the karmic storage in your life. Not quite traveling through time but the result is the same as going back and not doing what you did.


Speak Up When it Doesn’t Work

They seemed like great hearing aids. With extra tech through a Bluetooth app to adjust them for hearing TV audio, crowded restaurants, etc. The only thing is, they were unreliable. Hisses, feedback, the charger sometimes not working right and the Bluetooth app seldom working well. She took them in for service countless times. The company allegedly even sent them back for replacement. After more than a year and a half my wife had had enough. She demanded her money back and money back to our insurance company as well.

We’re talking lots of money—more than $5,000 for what should have been very high-quality devices. Turns out, the cost included all those office visits after the initial fitting. After all, they might need tweaking or reprogramming—like everything else these days, hearing aids have software and firmware. She persisted. A few days ago, she got a check for the full amount of what we paid. Another check will be going to the insurance company. I can tell you with confidence—don’t mess with my wife with a product that doesn’t work!

Then there’s the new bed—an adjustable one. With a hybrid mattress. Actually, two mattresses—a split king. As we get older, body parts have problems. Like that rotator cuff surgery for her. Or a hernia fix for me. It’s likely more will come in future years. So, get a bed with the ability to rise at the head or the feet—with massage functions too. The hybrid mattresses have innersprings and foam. The one we tried at the store seemed to be just right—a little softer for achy joints than the memory foam one we’d had for ten years. But the one that got delivered seemed quite a bit firmer. We both thought so. I called the store owner, who sold us the set—which cost as much as the hearing aids. No problem, given that over the last decade we had bought:

  • The previous bed and mattress
  • Ell-office furniture for me
  • A futon
  • A loveseat
  • A powered double-size recliner sofa for the TV room—we needed room for the dog
  • Stuffed chairs
  • A variety of small tables

That’s what most store owners would call good customers. When you’re a good customer, the boss listens. He ordered two new mattresses and they were delivered in a couple weeks, fresh from the factory. This time they were “ultra plush” instead of plain plush. He hauled away the originals, as well as the old bed and mattress. No additional charges. When you live in a small town, there’s not many places to buy furniture. Buy local is a good mantra. It works well wherever you live, even in a big city. What with the pandemic, supply chain issues and delivery charges for getting items from far away places, it’s a better choice.

So, stand up for yourself and be assertive. Notethat’s insistent, not rude or belligerent. Build up a relationship with business or a store and it will pay off in the end.

Memories Are Made of This–and That

Dean Martin recorded “Memories Are Made of This” in 1955. To the iconic hit song  I added “and that.” Memories pop up in response to the oddest things. At least mine do. A doctor told her to drink ginger ale for a swallowing issue. Turns out it could be almost any other carbonated beverage. But it happened to be ginger ale that she had with lunch the other day. Pop (a Midwestern pun there) goes the memory. The Variety Bar and Café, 9th street and Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. Long since gone, but it used to be there.

What’s that got to do with ginger ale. I was drinking it, in that long gone bar. A memory that hadn’t been in consciousness for many decades. It might have been in 1955, as in Martin’s song. Yes, I would have been a child in the in the 50s. Things were probably a bit looser then. I wasn’t there alone. The unknown part is who was I with. My father died of cancer in 1954, when I was seven. He’d had it a few years already. More likely my oldest brother. Can’t say. All I remember is the bar, the ginger ale—some Juicy Fruit gum and at least a couple more people. Could have been the brother and his neighborhood friend.

Now, I could have posted this on my story blog, John Maberry’s Writing. I put it here because it’s a writing tip. Grab those memories and the word associations that prompted them. They work great for writing fiction or nonfiction. Writing for life is the parlance. Change the names, the places, etc. to protect the privacy of yourself and others—but make use of them. Everything doesn’t have to come from your imagination!

On the story blog, you’ll find a recent post, Derek is Back in Time. Derek is the time traveling protagonist in an SF novel to be published some years from now. I keep puttering away with snippets here and there while accumulating more knowledge from movies, TV shows and books featuring time travel. It’s a challenging thing. I believe I can do it well—no rush, I must take my time (ha-ha). The thing about it is, we time travel often—not physically, but through our memories. Think about that. My current conception is that this is an essential part of the storyline and the reality—if there is any, with regard to physical time travel.

Russia Without Putin—Coming Soon?

What would Russia—and the world be like without Putin?

The inherent dignity of life does not manifest in isolation. Rather, it is through our active engagement with others that their unique and irreplaceable nature becomes evident. At the same time, the determination to protect that dignity against all incursions adorns and brings forth the luster of our own lives. Daisaku Ikeda

Putin has been isolated for some time now if the multitude of images of him twenty feet from others means anything. Reportedly, he has been pouring over historical maps of the continent in which his country sits. Changing borders—with and without its dominance and control. Obsessed with returning it to what he believes a sphere of power and influence. Is he losing touch or is that performative behavior intended to rattle the world? It doesn’t really matter.

Dignity, if it ever existed within him, long ago left Putin. He has no qualms poisoning individuals. Nor employing weapons of mass destruction against innocents en masse. It’s all in service of keeping himself in charge and in pursuit of his legacy restoring Russia to its former glory. Oh, and increasing his vast wealth along the way.

But there are good reasons to believe that soon he will no longer be in charge. How soon? Possibly as soon as four to six weeks, but perhaps a bit longer. Is he truly as alone as he appears? Is he delusional or otherwise mentally impaired? Again, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the effects of his invasion of Ukraine.

You already know the suffering inflicted on Ukraine. The deaths, destruction and displacement of its people is shown on all media. Why Putin is not long for his political life, lies elsewhere. Let’s begin with that 40-mile-long convoy of tanks and trucks that has been stalled miles from Kiev for three days. Why?

  • Lack of fuel–and food
  • It’s been under attack by Ukrainian forces
  • Damaged vehicles can’t be removed or turned around off-road

What about the Russian soldiers? Many of them are reportedly conscripts with no combat experience. Ones who thought they still doing drills, only to find out they were invaders. Maybe they were told to expect a warm welcome—not motivated resistance. What happened to them?

  • Some surrendered
  • Some were captured
  • Thousands were killed (Russia denies that)

Forget the sanctions. As much as they will shave off some wealth from the oligarchs and ruin the Russian economy, Putin doesn’t really care about them. At least few think so. Nor does he care what the world thinks or even the Russian people. Opposition parties are not allowed on the ballot in Russia. The people won’t revolt—that’s too dangerous and they are right to fear it. What then?

Consider those within the Kremlin. The highest-ranking military officers. The ones whose sons (maybe some daughters) are leading units in or on the border of Ukraine. Possibly extended family members in Ukraine. The war is not going well. Their children may die. The military leaders—and their children may be charged with war crimes. As things get progressively worse in both Russia and Ukraine, THOSE folks may revolt.

How is it that the US has been able to predict, days in advance, exactly what the next steps the Russian invasion strategy would be? Down to false flags, disinformation, misinformation, troop movements, etc.? Two ways—human intelligence (inside information passed to US agencies) or signals intelligence (messages captured electronically by satellites, wire, etc.). Trump was a high-level KGB officer. He knows this and undoubtedly has been trying diligently to find and remove such people—apparently not completely successfully.

Assuming both intelligence channels have been working well and may still be. Those involved on the Russian side will have been working hard to keep themselves safe. One way to ensure their survival would be to carefully negotiate with those military officials (one or more of which themselves might be leaks) to offer Putin an option—step down or die. That might stop the invasion of Ukraine. But who would succeed Putin? Someone like Alexei Navalny? Don’t hold your breath.

As the war in Ukraine ends, the country can begin rebuilding. That will take time. We can hope—not necessarily expect, that the nations and organizations that have supported them in their time of need against Russia will aid in the rebuilding. Again, as the philosopher/peacebuilder and Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda said:

[I]t is through our active engagement with others that their unique and irreplaceable nature becomes evident.

Putin and Trump—Two “Geniuses”?

They’re two of a kind, Putin and Trump. If you see Putin on TV, his fatter face makes one think he’s been eating burgers and fries like Trump. He aspires to the heights of kleptocracy that Putin has attained. That’s why Trump wants to run for president again in 2024. He still won’t accept his loss in 2020. That despite all the evidence to the contrary.

While in office, Trump once claimed that he was a “stable genius.” A few days ago said Putin’s moves on Ukraine were “genius.” Not likely an assessment of either by observers of modest intelligence, given the results then or now.

It takes an autocracy to enable a functional kleptocracy. It doesn’t take genius. Autocracy—with a solid oligarchy, doesn’t inspire admiration and loyalty among the populace. Competence doesn’t follow either. With a Russian military more than five times larger than Ukraine’s, Putin’s forces were expected to cut through Ukraine like a warm knife through butter. Well, not quite. An army of conscripts are no match for Ukrainian patriots.

While in office, Trump denigrated NATO and seemed inclined to let it fail. With his friend Putin’s moves, NATO is now resurgent and united. Germany,  has now anteed up its 2% defense contribution that Trump complained about. NATO, the EU and the US, are united in sending weapons to Ukraine. Weapons that Trump held back in his bid to get President Zelensky to manufacture dirt on Biden before the 2020 election. That action prompted Trump’s first impeachment.

The MAGA morons believe Trump cares about them and will ensure their prosperity. Well DUH! Did he do that while in office? No, but he did let them die from COVID. Many of them, of course, think that’s a hoax. Those 930,000 Americans who have died so far must not have died of the pandemic . Maybe not all–just fake news.

The polls say Biden’s doing a bad job as President. Let’s compare Trump’s time in office with Biden’s first year.

Trump’s genius:

  • Hundreds of thousands died of COVID as Trump urged Ivermectin and quack cures against the pandemic
  • Trump’s Warp Speed program did eventually produce vaccines, he did nothing to stop COVID’s spread
  • He left states to fend for themselves for money, medical supplies, guidance, etc.
  • He politicized Federal health agencies into putting out bogus rules, regulations and advice
  • Millions of people lost their jobs
  • The economy plunged
  • His first three years featured multiple infrastructure weeks without results–other than showcasing himself behind the wheel of a truck or wearing a hard hat

Biden’s pragmatic Federal response:

  • Quickly developed a effective plan to distribute vaccines
  • Cleaned up the health agencies and put in knowledgeable leadership
  • Got legislation passed offering financial support to struggling workers and families
  • He got an infrastructure bill passed to fix bridges, airports, roads, and more–that Trump never did
  • Added more jobs than anytime in 40 years
  • The economy is now humming along
  • Has finally suppressed the pandemic—which could have been accomplished sooner if not for the GOP officials who opposed mask mandates, allowed high-capacity facilities to open too soon  (without masks) AND all those people who refused vaccines (many of whom have since died of COVID)

So, what about Biden’s low approval ratings. Well, how about all those people back to work—many of which have higher wages or salaries? How about his leadership around the World—uniting our allies? How about the rise in the GDP? Oh, none of that matters.

Why not? Because people don’t like paying more at the gas pump or the supermarket. Well BOO HOO! Would they rather die of COVID? Not have a job? Be in poverty? Wanted to stay in Afghanistan?

Biden doesn’t control the Federal Reserve. The FED has held the interest rates at zero and used other stimulus to pump up the economy. Inflation ensued. The FED will finally begin raising the interest rates in March. Wall Street is in a tizzy but the GDP will keep rising as unemployment continues declining.

Meanwhile, over the past year, red state legislatures have been enacting laws making voting more difficult—especially for people of color (also known as Democratic voters). Suppressing the vote is not enough. Overturning election results if GOP candidates don’t win is a goal–like what Trump wanted in 2020.

America’s democracy is at stake. The January 6 insurrection was about replacing it with what political scientists call an autocracy. Elections don’t matter in Russia and other such undemocratic countries. Guess what–put Trump back in the White House might result in some folks on the gravy train, but nothing like those  Russian oligarchs. Trump wants all the money for himself and his family.

What really motivates most of Trump cult members is the fear of  demographic changes America faces. In other words, more Black, Hispanic and other people of colors other than White. Yes, many may vote for Democrats. Democrats who will protect their rights. That will mean a loss of White Privilege. The privilege to get into better schools. The privilege to get better jobs for more money. The privilege not to get stopped by police for the offense of driving while black. Equal justice–OH NO!

Yes, this is a harsh indictment of the GOP. One of my goals for 2022 remains bridging the cultural gap in the US. Yet, the truth must be told to get there. Most of the GOP claim the 2020 election was stolen–rather than Trump trying to steal it from Biden! They have no problem supporting the January 6th violent attack on the US Capitol. Killing and injuring police must have been patriotic.

Many of these same people profess to be evangelical Christians. Many claim to be Pro-Life. Actually, they are Pro-Birth. Once born, children are on their own. The SNAP program (formerly known as Food Stamps) funding should be cut. Childcare? Why should people be financially responsible for care of other people’s children? Parental leave? Mothers should be at home taking care of their children. Oh, they must work? Tough.

Did Jesus say it was OK to ignore the poor? I’m no longer a Christian, but I know better than that. Did He say it was OK to treat other people badly because they don’t look or speak like you? I don’t think so. There are a lot of so-called Christians who don’t seem to understand the tenets of their own faith. That’s one more cultural bridge to cross.