Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter: What Did Early Christians Believe?

(It may not be what you think or believe today).

Easter is the high holy day of Christianity and deservedly so.  It defines the relationship between humanity and the divine, life and death, sin and redemption in a complicated faith story.  Believers hold that God sacrificed his only Son, to take away the sins of the world, as the ultimate scapegoat, who then ascended to heaven in his human form.  By doing so, he enabled humans to follow, and participate in everlasting life.

 Naturally, other religions don’t share this view, and, more to the point, are puzzled by it.  Maybe you are, too. Monotheists, like Jews and Muslims, see a vast, impassable chasm between God and humanity.  God is other.  The combination of man and God in one being is incomprehensible.  

Polytheistic traditions, however, are very familiar with gods popping down to earth in human form, procreating, fighting, blessing, miracle making.  Think of Zeus fathering most of the heroes, like Perseus, Theseus, and Heracles, by young virgins, like Alcmene and Danae. They don’t see anything particularly unusual about these trips back and forth between heaven and earth, or of Jesus being both god and man. 

 What may interest you, and you have surely inferred this from the readings of the Canonical and non-Canonical Gospels and the title of today’s service, is that for hundreds of years, people who considered themselves Christians didn’t believe the Easter story as we currently know it, either.  The range of interpretations of Jesus’s death and resurrection stories encompasses the full range of monotheistic and polytheistic views – not unlike the range of beliefs represented by Unitarian Universalists in this or any congregation. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Detective Story... What Happened to Jesus's Body?

Pretend that you are a detective.  Pick your favorite: Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Miss Marple.  Think about how they think; how they gather and sift information.  Now plunk that person down in a year around 30 CE.  

Now imagine that grieving family and friends of Jesus appeal to you with the startling news that his newly dead body, that of a convict, executed by the Romans - is missing from its tomb.  They want your help in figuring out what happened.  What questions will you ask?  What conclusions will you draw from what you do hear and what you don't hear, from the consistencies and the discrepancies of your sources and the evidence? Bear in mind, that as a contemporary witness, you know nothing about the later theologies of the Resurrection or the Trinity.  You just know that an itinerant Jewish teacher, seen by some authorities as a rabble-rouser, was arrested and rapidly condemned to a particularly ignominious death, and now his family and friends say his body is missing.  Hmmmmm!

Now, fast forward 2000 years.  You are still a detective, but this time, a sociological, religious detective.  You sift through the early Christian documents (the canonical gospels and the apocryphal ones and various letters that were circulating then as well), and Jewish documents and political ones.  These writers had choices about what to include and what to leave out.  What do you notice about the choices that the writers made?  What conclusions do you draw about the documents, the writers, and the believers? 

We will play both of these roles, first as contemporary detective and then as literary/historical detective. We will look at many of the same passages, first in one light and then in the other.  What do you conclude?  What questions remain?  Do they matter to you?  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Winter Treks 42 miles to a town from our cabin

Like Little Red Riding Hood, our winter commute is along serpentine trails through the woods, over ridges and down frozen river beds. Depending on the distance, we travel by snow machine (snowmobile), cross country skis, or snow shoes.  When we are going slowly, I notice tracks of animals that are fox and coyote size and larger. We descend down shallow access points to river basins along with many moose tracks, since they like that gentle trajectory, too. In fact, the hard snow machine trails are pockmarked by the moose's deep tread, since walking on the hard surface is easier for them than wallowing in the soft snow or the thin ice. At this time of year, at least, there is a reciprocating benefit of man to beast.

I enjoy walking and snow machining through the woods more than across the open flats of frozen bogs, lakes or meadows but there is beauty and function in each. The heavily treed areas shield us from the north wind which can be an unwelcome force, and it is rather fun to dip and rise and twist and turn through a pillowy soft winter wonderland. In the open flats, one can see the moutains beyond the trees.  The close ones guide me home by their familiar faces as I wind around them.  The tall, remote ones are treats to see so clearly in the winter air.  They look closer, due to their height above 15,000 feet. The stronger wind is not only cold, but it stirs up the snow, interfering with good visibility, which can be a hazard on a remote trail shared by ornery creatures with five foot legs and a four month hunger. On the other hand, one can drive ten or twenty miles faster per hour along the flats most of the time which is always a plus on a long commute, and it is the only viable route for heavy loads and long supplies, like pipes and boards. My husband often drives TO town (with an empty load) along a woodsy route that is 12 miles and an hour shorter, even at slower speeds. Returning home with a heavy load, he takes a flatter route which is longer. Empty, he can get home in 3.5 hours. A full load decreases speed, increases caution and duration, up to 5 hours. Sometimes, he has to dump a load to get up a hill.  

Small, nimble recreational snow machiners leave trails that are arbitrary, cris-crossing the landscape like fly casting patterns. But the ones we favor for our utilitarian purposes of hauling goods from town to the cabin are more permanent. The trails are marked by small, metal reflective quadrangles nailed into trees every once in a while. But since trees fall and die, the trail is supplemented in winter, with flagging tape tied to branches. Across treeless areas, wooden stakes are marked with flagging ribbons and reflective tape. Some parts of the trails, particularly along major rivers and within about two hours of a town, are maintained by snow machining and mushing clubs and by the nearest municipality or lodge as a regional recreational area. Other trails, particularly remote ones, are maintained by the local residents. In good visibility, well used trails are easy to see, but in flat light, snow storms or after a heavy snow, one can see only the upcoming vertical marker or tree square. As a back up precaution, my husband has recorded the two trails that connect at our cabin on a portable GPS unit that he carries with him. In our vicinity, at least, the driving protocol is to keep the stakes to our right when we are heading from our cabin to town, and keep the stakes to our left when we are returning. In this way, we will stay on the hard surface and not tip over into soft, unpacked snow.

Maintenance is a bit like building a seasonal road and then snow plowing it. As water surfaces like rivers, lakes, and bogs freeze, people need to first check how thick the ice is. Then one can travel across them for the first time in many months! Yea! Mobility! Bogs and still, shallow lakes freeze first, followed by deeper lakes and moving rivers. At this point, one can walk across those surfaces but they still need snow, for the eponymous snowmobile. Locals know where underwater springs are located, and often denote holes of open water with a tall pair of crossed sticks.

Once snow starts to accumulate, interested parties can break trails. This requires some repeat conditioning. One needs to pack down a path in the snow so it will harden and thicken to support more weight than the soft surface on either side. This generally requires two trips: a first one to pack down the soft snow, a lag of a day or two for that to freeze hard, and then a second trip to pack it down further. Some people groom trails after every appreciable snowfall. Others groom shortly before a race or outing or hauling trip. For remote people like us, a snow groomer is a useful attachment that trails behind the snow machine. This passive, fence-like contraption can chop off icy boulders, fill in the pits of moose footfalls, and smooth out dips that would otherwise feel like a washboard across straight aways or be a steep and treacherous impediment for a trailer full of cement blocks or for novice riders. Throughout the hauling season (February and March), my husband and I will often take a Sunday afternoon picnic to a spot an hour or so down the trail. With that timing, we follow any weekend hot doggers who may have eroded the smooth parts of the trail a day or so before my husband plans a weekday trek for heavy supplies. But another reason for these slower, shorter jaunts is the opportunity it gives my husband to enjoy a pretty stretch that otherwise just represents a blur at the beginning or end of long, exhausting days for him. After all, we live here partly for the sheer beauty of the place. It is important to notice it.

Last weekend we tried to combine both utility and pleasure in an outing. Armed with a picnic of tea and pumpkin bread, we drove on our two snow machines (plus a groomer on mine and a sled on his) about an hour to a river's edge. It is a pretty spot, but the reason we stopped there was because several days before, Bryan had been unable to ascend a steep, icy stretch from the river basin to the ridge with two pallet loads of supplies, each weighing about 750 lbs. We had to go retrieve one he had abandoned in the snow. He had gotten a “Man Up! Your machine can take all that weight” sort of speech from the delivery man. However, what we learned that day is that engine capacity is but one element of a successful haul. Another is the condition and angle of the worst segment of the trail. Stuck about one hour from town and two hours from home, afraid of burning out the motor, Bryan was unable to lever the top pallet load off the sled and dreaded cutting the packaging to unload each element one by one. What to do?

Fortuitously, two snow machiners happened along. Perhaps because they were good Samaritans or perhaps because Bryan's load was blocking the trail, they helped him push the top pallet off into the soft snow beside the trail, waited for him to retie the lower load, and helped nudge him up past the icy patch to an open meadow, at which point they were able to zoom around him.

On our return trip a few days later, we painstakingly unwrapped and re- loaded 6 cement blocks, 11 – 12 foot dock boards, two 8 foot wooden posts, 8 metal fence posts, and 6 - 32 quart bags of Miracle-Gro that lay in such soft snow that my feet sank to my knees and I had to pull myself up to the hardened path on one knee to pass materials to Bryan. Once loaded, we ratcheted down about 6 cables to hold everything snugly for a bumpy ride ahead. Alas, after all that work, we could not ascend the icy path even with only one pallet load this time. The big machine couldn't get any traction, and my smaller machine couldn't haul the larger plus the sled weight. Over the course of two hours, we unloaded first 1/3 of the weight, tried to leave, then 2/3 of the weight, tried again, and finally headed home with a mere 4 boards, weighing a grand total of about 100 lbs. At least we had two intact machines! But now what?

The third element of a successful haul is weather. We had to wait for the weather to change. Several days later, it snowed heavily for a night and day, covering the ice with about 7 inches of snow and adding some light texture, as well. My husband headed back, this time with a stronger companion than I, to finally bring everything home. Will all this effort be worth it? We'll know that when we start to build the fuel depot and dock extension, which is what the whole commute was for in the first place.

Why No Term Sheets... at all? or "They Just Aren't Into You"

Laura Emerson

March 24, 2013

Raising capital is hard, time consuming, expensive, and sometimes humbling. There are as many reasons that investors do not invest in companies as there are reasons why people who meet choose not to date. Sometimes “they just aren't into you.” On the other hand, if you have done your research and have found that indeed there are investors financing companies in your niche, just not you, it is WAY past time to assess whether you might be doing anything to sabotage your own game plan.

Below are five commonalities among companies that never get any term sheets at all. Do any pertain to you? Also, review the descriptions of unfunded (unfundable?) companies at the end of the article. Do any aspects sound uncomfortably familiar? If so, the most common problems are not difficult to address.

The five categories are: talking too much, talking to the wrong people, talking about the wrong things, a business plan with holes that indicate naivete or obfuscation, and inflated pre-money valuations. Do any of these sound familiar?


Every entrepreneur I have ever met is as proud of his/her company as a new parent is of that wrinkly little baby. Both groups often make the mistake of being long winded, without first ascertaining the audience's degree of interest. Someone's polite inquiry at a networking event of “What do you do?” or “Tell me about your company” may welcome a 2 minute soundbite between drinks, not an uninterrupted oration.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Winter Morning Chores Around an Off-Grid Alaska Cabin

Among winter chores, the most important involves keeping warm.

We sleep under the world's fluffiest, warmest down comforter, which is actually too hot most of the year, but a warm bed, in a cool room is very cozy. Waking up in a cold house (mid-40s to mid 50s), however, is not so fun. The first thing we do is start the coffee that I have set up on the stove the night before, and then open the wood stove hoping that some red embers remain. If they do, we can start a fire without a match. To do so, I open the flu, and scrape the embers together. Then I form a sort of chimney shape of dry, friable birch bark and thin slips of kindling to funnel the embers' heat up along these surfaces, which catch and burn. If the embers have gone cold, we generally shovel them into a metal bucket we store in the snow outside and start afresh. (When the ashes are thoroughly chilled, we dump some down the outhouse hole and save the rest for summer gardening).  This slow and steady approach is difficult to do first thing in a cold and dark morning! Many a time my chilly fingers have overloaded the firebox too early and ended up with a smoky fire. Then I either have to wait until that clears or smoke up the cabin while rectifying the situation sooner.

After a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs, or pancakes and sausage or bowls of oatmeal, my husband and I have different sets of outdoor chores for which we bundle up in bunny boots, padded Carharrt's overalls, and parkas. 

Routine chores include emptying the night's chamber pot in the outhouse, burning trash in the burn barrel (currently located in a snow hole about 3 feet below the level of snow we walk on), hauling birch logs from our enormous wood corral (we estimate 24,000 lbs of wood, about 8 cords), and collecting additional buckets of snow to melt on the wood stove for washing.

The first thing one of us does is to visit the rabbits with extra water and vegetable ends accumulated the prior day, and perhaps a cardboard toilet paper roll as a chew toy.  They particularly love carrots and bean sprouts. The rabbits are currently housed in the chicken run.  Since that ground is frozen solid, they can't dig their way out. The snow surrounds the chicken wire to the height of the roof. This forms a sort of igloo around the rabbits which they like – it is cold, to which they are well suited - but neither wet nor windy.  To keep the water from freezing,  we have a low wattage water heater for them. They neatly keep their food, sleeping, and pooping areas segregated, so it is easy to feed and clean up after them. Over the course of 3 weeks, these two adolescent Flemish giants have eaten about 10 lbs of pellet food and additional vegetable snacks and alfalfa hay and have excreted about 15 lbs of manure, which we haul to the compost pile. By spring, before the ground thaws and before we bring in a small flock of laying hens, we'll move the rabbits to segregated hutches: one for the male alone and one for the female with what we hope will be a litter of future dinners for us.  (Update:  in subsequent years, we switched to medium sized satins and installed them in hutches, see article on raising rabbits.)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Winter Afternoons Around an Off-grid Alaska Cabin

Although the temperature outside this March is below + 10F degrees in the morning, and above that  in the afternoon, the sun is so extravagantly reflected from the snow into the cabin that by late morning through afternoon (on sunny days) the interior is comfortable without a fire.  So every second or third day, after breakfast/dishes/spit baths, we let the fire die out (if we have enough melted snow for water).  Once the stove is cool, we clear out the ashes and use the embers to burn trash in a snow pit in the back yard.  About once in the spring, fall, and winter, we sweep out the chimney too.   What a dirty job that is!  But we don’t want any uncontrollable creosote based chimney fire in a log cabin in the middle of the woods.  

We tend to have hearty breakfasts and lunches (followed by light dinners). For example, today we had ham and spinach omelets for breakfast.  For lunch, we had salmon salad and crispy cabbage wrapped in a tortilla, browned on the grill, served with stewed apples, followed by  peanut butter cookes topped with Reeces bites and tea.    
<><><><><><> </> <><><><><><> </> <><><><><><> </>
Chicken coop & snow machine commute

After a morning working on business emails and phone calls, Bryan is eager for outdoor energetic projects.  Sometimes he said that he gets into the "zen" of the work, particularly something repetitive like shoveling. Other times he "processes" some business goofball he talked with earlier in the day.  Yesterday, he chopped down a huge birch bough that had crashed into and was hung up in an adjacent tree ( a "widow maker").  Wearing a helmet and Kevlar chaps protected him from most chainsaw depredations, but the snow was so powdery that maneuvering in snow shoes on unstable snow while hefting his Husqvarna 455 seemed less and less prudent so he gave that up (without my having to haul out my widow's weeds). 

Last week he built a chicken coop which we hope to populate next summer with the fluffiest, cold hardy chickens you could ever hope to see.  But I wonder, why am I the only one concerned that the building will fall at a damaging tilt when the 8 feet of ground snow melts in April?