Wednesday, January 28, 2015

10 Reasons Why I Approve of My Niece's Fiance

Of course, I trust and respect my niece's judgement, but I'm glad my first impression was a good one. I'm glad niece and fiance came to meet the Keplers. Below are the details that influenced my positive impression (sometimes iterated through negative definition).
  1. He drove up in a mild-mannered, pale blue car, possibly a Toyota or Honda. I didn't pay much attention. It was not painted with flames, though, and it was not a monster truck. I did not hear the bass-booming of speakers before the car appeared.
  2. Getting out of the car, he did not flash about eight inches of underwear because of his low-hung pants. His baseball hat was not on backwards or sideways. In fact, he was not wearing a hat. No facial tattoos or lip, eyebrow, nose, or tongue piercings adorned his face.
  3. He shook my hand, no knuckle bashing. I don't remember his first words, but they were something along the lines of "Hello," or "Nice to meet you." He might have used "Tom." I remember being grateful that he didn't call me "Kepdawg."
  4. He brought flowers for my ninety-year-old mother.
  5. At one point, he stood and looked at displayed photos of my father, commenting on the WWII photos of my dad in Alaska. He had lived in Alaska also. At one point, my niece moved so that her fiance could sit next to my mom and talk into her good ear. (Well, her better ear, anyway--25% with her hearing aid.)
  6. He is a web developer. When I asked the difference between a web designer and web developer, his response was articulate.
  7. Keeping in mind that he will be contributing to my niece's happiness: he is tall, has dark hair, and is handsome. You go, Karen!
  8. When I asked if anyone wanted tea, he didn't say, "Got a brewski?" nor did he say, "What, no booze? WTF?!"
  9. When leaving, he bent way down to hug my five-foot-tall mom. Later, she said, "He's a tall one!"
  10. He was dignified and respectful his entire visit. On leaving, he didn't peel out, burn rubber, smoke the tires. I always thought doing that with front-wheel drive looks kind of silly anyway.
I've only met him once, but I think he has special qualities. My niece and he look at one another as if they share a special universe. There's this special force that surrounds them.

I plan to do my best to make it to the wedding. I hope nobody minds if I show up on my bike!

Copyright 2015 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Monday, December 29, 2014

Book Review: The Golden Princess by S.M. Stirling

"Quantity has its own quality." Readers of S.M. Stirling's the Change series are familiar with this saying. It's true for the eleven alternative reality novels written about the "Change," when the Someone or Something, maybe "alien space bats," took our toys away from us, and the world is jammed back to using medieval technology . . . more or less.

Out of these eleven novels, some are better than others, but the quantity of words in total has its own quality, carving an alternative reality quite interesting in its speculation of how cultures evolve and how people react to catastrophic change. The Change series begins its third cycle with the novel The Golden Princess, with the coming of age of the third generation since the lights-out year of 1998.

Dies the Fire is the first novel of the series, and in the five-hundred-page novel, five pages at the beginning set the "prior to adventure" reality, and then the story launches into action. Therefore, one percent of the novel is the set-up. In The Golden Princess, the first major action is around twenty percent of the way through the novel, and this is the pattern of the novel--a little action and lots of characterization and travelogue.

The "travelogue" aspect isn't all that bad for someone like me who has read the earlier ten novels. For instance, I found it interesting when the Rangers, modeled after the Dunedain of Tolkien's novels, expand their forest steadings to the old forest redwood groves of California (now Westria). I found it interesting to read about how Generation One assassins have mellowed (more or less) in late middle age. I found it interesting how the McClintock blue-tattooed clan is structured. But as Stirling leads us through third-generation Montival, describing how the from-the-ashes societies have evolved and providing backstory for where they started from and from whom, the plot sluggishly progresses. Mark you, having read the earlier books, I found the anthropological detail interesting, but I had to accept the author was in no hurry to get on with the action--that's for later books, I assume. (I hope!)

If you've read the ten previous novels, enjoy the author's wide angle lens on Montival, enjoy some glimpses of the Far East, and forgive the fact that this is an introduction for a new generation of readers who have stepped in on the story anew with this book. If you are a new reader, consider this Stirling's attempt at the Canterbury Tales. Meet the characters, listen to their stories, and know going in that the story has no ending.

Thank the gods that quantity has its own quality; therefore, I can give this novel a just-past-the-bar three-star rating. It's OK. If I hadn't read the earlier ten novels and therefore found the anthropology interesting, I believe I'd have despaired. You know, Stirling didn't have an easy job, beginning a new cycle of Change novels while simultaneously providing backstory for the last ten. Now that it's done, though, please don't dilly-dally so with the next novel, Stephen Michael. I believe I might just be that Someone who pulls the plug on the next book.

Copyright 2014 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Friday, December 26, 2014

Today My Mother Is 90 Years Old

Mom December 1927, 3 years old
"My doctor tells me that when you turn ninety, you might say or do anything, so watch out!"

That's what my mom says. She's kidding, of course. And maybe a little serious and a little nervous. Our family's experience with Dad's dementia/Alzheimer's was enough to have us tossing salt over our shoulder.

What I admire most about my mom is her quiet courage. Born in an era when it wasn't unusual for a woman to just follow her husband's orders, Mom quietly lived her independent life of traditional boundaries. She never drove a car because her eyesight was too poor. She didn't work once she started having babies. She was a stay-at-home mom, but that form only contained her independence. It did not quell it.

Today Mom is heading for a new year--as she put it, a "not so happy year." Dad is gone, but Mom still has her two boys. I'll be out to see her in a month. My brother is her live-in caregiver.

My new year's resolution is a paraphrase of a favorite expression of Mom's, to just keep moving, that when you sit down, that's when you get into trouble. I don't think of that as wearing yourself out with activity; rather, I think it means to remain vital and in accord with nature.

Sometimes when we follow our path, we have to shout the warning, "Clear the path! I'm coming through!" A variant is "Follow me or get out of the way!" My dad phrased this more bluntly: "Help or get the hell out of the way!"

When I hear my mother--five feet tall and ninety years old, blind and deaf--say such things, I hear the implacable power of nature grinding down mountains, that power that pounds seashores to sand and lifts into the air ten billion birds. I am lifted myself to keep moving, to keep to my path, to enjoy my life.

God bless you, Mom, and happy birthday.

Copyright 2014 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Remembering Dad by Writing About the Things He Said

Sometimes the best way to express my feelings is to quote my father.

"I'm in pretty good shape, considering the shape I'm in."

"If you're going to do it, do it right."

"Always leave a campsite in better shape than it was when you arrived."

I'd start out with, "Well, like my daddy says . . . " or "My dad says it this way . . . "

Now that Dad has passed away, those moments when I remember how he phrased his thoughts have an extra dimension. I'm not only expressing an idea in a manner that reflects my past; I'm also celebrating and honoring that past. It's a good feeling, an expression of continuity and also of evolution.

I am not my father, nor was my father his, yet there is a connection. Depending on the clarity of our thinking and the purity of our lives, we have the option to take from our family heritage, to nurture the growth of our family tree, to prune, to feed and water, to bring light to our daily living.

Quoting my dad or my mom is a way of honoring that past from which I have come. It's a way of reminding myself of who my dad was and of who I am.

It's like my dad would say, "Where you are is just one step away from where you've been."

Copyright 2014 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved