Christmas Epistle 2023

LXX birthday this year

Home & Garden

In January of this year Erica and I decided to have the interior of our house completely redecorated since it was well past its 25 year decorate-by date. Having obtained an estimate for the job from a local reliable contractor we decided to have new plasterboard nailed in over the top of the existing ceiling which could be painted over easily. The recommended builder stated that his team could start work straight away and that it would take at most a couple of weeks to finish (yeah, right!). However, in order to install the plaster panels on the ceiling and do the painting on the ‘old’ part of the house we had to evacuate most of the furniture (disposing of quite a few superfluous items), pack up all of our books into literally dozens of boxes, box up the framed pictures taken off the walls, pack up other decorative items, and move them all into the ‘extension’ family room and bedroom (which had a decent ceiling), thus increasing the Domestic Entropy Quotient by several orders of magnitude (see photos). But once the ceilings were properly ‘mudded in’ painting them and the walls (plus doors, trim, etc etc) was fairly straightforward and rapid. While this was underway, we realised that we had a good opportunity to replace the carpets throughout the ‘old’ house which were also way past their looking-presentable-by date. Thus, having bid the painters farewell for the time being we welcomed in the carpet installers who only took twice as long as anticipated to install all the carpets (it turns out that it’s much harder to drill into concrete slab to anchor the carpet than floorboard). But we weren’t finished yet. We now had to move our stuff out of the two big rooms of the ‘extension’ and back into the ‘old’ house so that the painters could return and finish off the extension. This they did (with two coats), and the carpets having been steam cleansed from decades of use, we were at length able to move furniture back into the extension and return books to their rightful locations on bookshelves. Thus, although the process was somewhat traumatic we managed to donate many items of furniture that had been surplus to requirements for many years, sort through a lot of ‘archives’ (mostly mine), dispose of unwanted books and manuscripts (also mostly mine) , and realign furniture in most of the rooms. By the end of March there was a loud “PHEW, that’s finished”.

But more was to come on the garden/’yard’ (to use local parlance) front. An itinerant tree service rings the front doorbell, “do you want that there tree stump ground down, mate?” (or words to that effect). So, he backs the stump grinder over the tree stump and 1/2 hour later it’s a huge pile of sawdust. Ah, I hadn’t thought that through. Then the guy claims there’s carpenter ants in there and after a walk around the house points out a number of dicey tree limbs overhanging the house which could fall and create havoc. “We can fix that right now for $1.5k cash” he saith, pulling a number out of his hat. But we were having none of it and sent them packing on their way. However, when I got a couple of local tree companies to give estimates we got a similar verdict – yes, there were dangerous boughs but no carpenter ants present. Thus it was that we had overhanging branches and trees cut down and taken away the next week, the only drawback being that they had to carve an opening through the brush at the bottom of the yard. This presaged a fall leaf-fall deluge which demanded regular use of the enviro-friendly battery powered leaf blower and garden rake, and also bi-weekly roof romps blowing leaves out of gutters. It turns out that the spring was so conducive to tree growth that we had a mast year with huge amounts of leaves and massive production of black walnuts in the autumn. These nature’s cannonballs rained down from on high in a steady downpour over several weeks; random gunshots punctured my computer activities in the family room; loud bangs jerked me awake; the black walnut hailstones hammered the garage roof and deck leaving a trail of walnut waste. Fortunately, we park the cars in the garage which avoided dirty dents in the paintwork. I collected no fewer than four barrowloads of these organic hailstones which I dumped in the leaf / sawdust dump hidden at the bottom of the yard.


Ironically, summer is not conducive to cycling since the weather is either too hot and humid (or ‘umid) or else it’s torrential rain. Come September however, I did the 30 mile Reid Ride & then the 60 mile BikeTourberFest ride with my church mate, Tommy.


Family relatives in Britain (BritRels) were put upon this year by no fewer than three visits from folks from across “the pond”. First, Mark spends 2 weeks in early June, then Will, Erin & big Victor were there in August for a couple of weeks and finally Megan & Michael dropped in for 10 days in November. Now some highlights of my expedition to Blighty in June (feel free to skip) :

Having been disgusted by the cost of car rentals (four times the price of a couple of years ago – 4X more!) I opted for an AirB’n’B equivalent for vehicles called Turo and got a very nice Toyota 2017 CRX hybrid which was delivered to Terminal 5 H’throw free of charge. I trundled down to Lucy’s in Bristol & then the following day wended my way to the village of Gotherington in the Cotswolds which is headquarters of the Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway. A whole day of steam hauled trains plus a tour around the engine shed! The following day I risked a ride in Lucy’s Audi down to the Somerset town of Frome in its picturesque prettiness [pix]. Then the following day I couldn’t resist the lure of supersonic flight & so visited the Concorde museum at Filton with Marcus. Besides a superb museum with a tour around the last Concorde (built at Filton) I got lots of good photos, and some jolly gifts at the gift shoppe. Then at the weekend Lucy & I drove over to Oxford (with Scarlett) to visit Eleanor who was studying for a masters at Pembroke College and had a great time sneaking in to College quads incognito. That evening we went for a long walk along the river to find a certain pub for a bonza meal and then spent the night at a luxa AirB’nB. The following day we drove to an animal farm in the middle of nowhere (I jest not) where we met up with sister Jane, Natalie, James & her two girls Drew & Bryn. A drive to Louise’s at Bourton-on-the-Water followed and the next day a long walk through the lovely local countryside with Alan and accompanied by their very short legged dog, Dolly. I was impressed by how that animal kept up with Louise’s hustling walking pace on such short legs! Back to her pad in Bramley, Hants, we visited Sophie & her little boy Finley & Josh in Winchester with a day out to a local arboretum. Finally, a visit to Jane & Samantha in Epping followed with a walk for the huge dog, Vinnie. The highlight was the visit we made to the Imperial War museum at Duxford where we saw live Spitfires flying and a whole aircraft hanger full of USA warplanes (including a gigantic B-52). That’s where I also took the award winning photo, “Menace II” (see below).

Returning home to Indiana we’ve had several visits with William & Erin and the lively, lovable, laughing boy, Victor. We chortled while watching his first steps of walking, we marvelled a couple of weeks later to see him running, we were agog when they took him to England in August and visited all the relatives that I had annoyed just a month or so previously!

Victor Pics

In July Erica and I took our regular yearly holiday to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky where we stayed at a historic ‘cottage’ (or cabin / shack / shed) and took long walks & a long thirsty tour down, down, down the biggest and longest cave system in the world. More great photos underground.


This year has been quite a year for photography. In January I purchased the newest iteration of the Fujifilm X series camera – the X-T5, together with the newly released Tamron F2.8, 17-70 lens. What a great combination! I took a ton of pics inside the dimly lit Mammoth cave and the Duxford air museum, mainly monochrome, but some colour with different film simulations [‘sims’] (eg Astia). At the Minnestrista show in Muncie early in spring I entered the print of ‘Mondrian in Monochrome’ that I took last year. I was gobsmacked when I discovered that it was purchased by the outgoing museum curator for $300. Then I entered an older shot I had taken a while ago called ‘Joy of Steam’ in colour & monochrome, which I had printed on my own printer into a show at Anderson Museum and won first place (another $300). In the fall I entered two monochrome shots I made this year into the Richmond Art Museum show, ‘suiboku-ga 水墨画 or Japanese ink painting’, and a shot I made at the Duxford Museum I entitled ‘Menace II’. This latter earned a Merit Award for $500. More chuffedness.


It’s been a busy year with church activities too :

  • Holy Week and Pascha – I was asked by Fr Gregory to take photos at the major services and some of them came out quite well.
  • Rory Basil baptism (May 6) – I was well chuffed when some young churchgoers, Atley & Trinity, asked me to be Godfather to their new son Rory Basil.
  • Vacation church school (August) – once again teaching 3rd, 4th & 5th graders something about holy scripture. Not much teaching time but they had lots of fun.
  • Feast of Dormition (on the Old Calendar) at Holy Cross monastery with Atley & tour of the new building. With four hour Vigil service and procession. Great!
  • Hierarchical Liturgy with Bishop Daniel. All the pomp, circumstances, and ritual you could ever want. St Pauls’ first Hierarchical Liturgy and we pulled it off with nary a glitch!


With a lot of encouragement from people closest to me I decided to join the LIFT online programme halfway through February. This is an online, group oriented, programme out of Canada to engage and heal one’s own Complex Trauma symptoms. I’ve been working with this programme continuously from February to November, with a break for Lent , Pascha & visit to the UK in the Spring. If you would like to know more about it please let me know and I’ll send you more details. (Learn more about LIFT)

Wrapping oop

I have spent what seems an an eternity getting this post to look right on the mobile. I think it’s finally there! And the end of the calender year is approaching fast. 2023 has been a very busy year, with the LIFT programme demanding a lot of my attention. But, as they say here in the midwest, “it’s all gud”. Thanks for wading through my ‘turgid prose’ (which is how someone described my PhD thesis) and viewing all the photogs. May God’s blessings be with you, especially if you leave a comment below :-).

Much love from,

Mark aka Isaac aka Faja (cf Austin Powers) aka Taid (Welsh for grandfather) aka ‘great eejit’.

2 replies on “Christmas Epistle 2023”

I enjoyed every minute of reading this! Bike fests, exploring caves, surviving the hail of black walnuts – if someone turned this into a movie I would definitely watch it! I feel I need to add more adventure to my life now 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

Thank you, Mark, for sharing about your amazing year! Congratulations on your courage and work with the Lift program. And the photo awards and big bucks. 🙂 And that cute little fella having fun in the leaves. And the biking and for hitting that big 7-0 milestone! You make this world a better (and happier) place!

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