Monday, April 30, 2007


Much about Whitehouse has changed, and my visual memories from childhood visits often don't mesh very well with its present reality. Two things, though, remain the same. One is the wonderful old trees. I know there are big trees elsewhere, but there is soemething special to me about these huge trees in East Texas.

Another thing is a smell. The neighbors have this large flowering white bush and the fragrance is almost overwhelmingly sweet. It is a smell I associate with Whitehouse. I suppose one of my aunts and uncles had these near their house, because the scent is a definite Whitehouse scent. Unfortunately neither of my parents have been able to name the bush for me yet, and thus I am unable to post a picture. If I get any information, I will remedy this.

More Texas

Yesterday afternoon Bobbie came over for a couple of hours, and then we went to visit Buddy and Florence. Buddy has lost about forty pounds, but he was actually in much better shape overall than when I saw him last fall. He started a conversation as soon as we came in and talked to us the whole time. This afternoon Mama and I dropped in on Christine for a while. Tomorrow I have lunch planned with Rusty. Whew!

We are supposed to be getting thuderstorms later this evening. Is has started growing darker, so I guess it is about to happen. Oops! There went the first thunder. I am cooking dinner, and I had better go check the rice....

Later: The thunderstorms stopped for now, but we spent a long time on the phone trying to figure out why my mother's new cellphone (they switched from Sprint to Cingular/AT&T) would let her call out but not receive. Whatever the problem was, it finally got resolved. Daddy got particularly frustrated trying to wend his way through an endless circle of instructions in Spanish and English telling him which number to punch next, but we finally got through to a human being -- a pleasant person named Mindy Miller. It took way too long to fix, IMHO, but she was very sympathetic and courteous. I am sure hers is a thankless job. No one calls her up to say they are happy about their phones, right?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The eyes of Texas

I made it to Whitehouse a little before 5:00 p.m. on Saturday. It was a long drive and the novel-on-CDs that I brought ran out just south of Tyler, so that timed out just about perfectly.

Mama and Daddy were ready for dinner when I got here, so we went to the little Mexican place up by Brookshire's. One of my favorite things about a visit to Texas is a chance to get decent Mexican food.

I was exhausted and slept well, woke to a sunny and warm day. I went over to the early Mass at Prince of Peace and then remembered I didn't have a key to get back in the house. I left after the homily and got back just as the folks were leaving for church. Mama said she realized I didn't have a key and had left the front door open for me anyway.

I offered to make lunch, but instead she asked me to pick up Chinese at the deli at Brookshire's. She and Daddy eat so little it is amazing. When the waitress asked them last night if they wanted a box to take their leftovers home -- they each had left more than half what they were eating, and it wasn't much to begin with -- I told her I didn't know why they bothered to eat. All they do is dirty a plate.

Friday, April 27, 2007


Tom keeps a blog for his family, and today I stole this from him since it is about his work around the house. Mama said she wanted me to put in a picture of the house. Once these flowers are in bloom and the grass (or weeds) have turned green, I will. Meanwhile, over to Tom:

Sowing and Reaping

We had a brief couple of days when the farmers could get out into the fields, but we've had several days of more or less solid rain since, which shut that down. Next week's weather looks promising for tilling and sowing, though, so the farmers aren't in high anxiety mode yet. Wait.

I've been working, of late, to prepare the wildflower beds in back of the house and seed a lawn in the construction backfill.

I've been pushed by a deadline -- today, when Sauk County delivers wildflower seeds and tree seedlings at the county dump. I got the last bed in about two days ago, just before the rain started, so I'm set. And just in time, too. As always, what seemed like lots of time when I started digging in mid-March compressed, somehow.

I'll pick up the seeds and seedlings this afternoon, and put them in over the weekend.

The seeds, all perennials, will be mixed with seeds for annuals so I get instant gratification this year, and will be sowed in beds drifting off from the back of the house. The seedlings -- 25 paper birch, 25 spruce, and 25 white pine, if I can get them -- will go out in the woods, underplanting existing red oak stands, which will probably be lost to oak wilt in the next decade or two.

Sowing is my weekend, this weekend.

I'm doing a bit of reaping, too, today. I got the last distribution from the company I used to own earlier this week, and I'll put that in the bank on my way back from the dump. The check represents what was left over from capital set aside to pay shutdown taxes and expenses, and that's done. So that part of my life is now, officially and finally, completed.

The other morning I reaped the benefits of retirement, big time.

I went for a walk with a friend to Sunset Cliff, up at the north end of the Dells. The view is spectacular -- spanning out for miles through the river valley -- and we spent a half hour of so sitting and talking. Her great-grandfather, H.H. Bennett, was the photographer who popularized the Dells, and her grandfather and father continued the studio. She has childhood memories of family picnics on Sunset Cliff, while her father waited for exactly the right moment to capture the sunset.

The river is a source of life in this area, and all of us who grew up in the area have been touched by it, one way or another. She and I talked about our different experiences with different areas of the river, and I came away renewed in my conviction that the volunteer work I'm doing in retirement, working with a group to preserve the natural beauty and ecology of the river corridor in this area, is exactly the right thing for me to do at this point in my life.

On the road again

Just a quick note before I head to work. Tom plans to come to the office around ten so that I can show him what the Screnocks want him to do next week while they and I are out of town. He has filled in for me in the past, and I am lucky that it is so easy to get a replacement. Then he will stay and work so that I can head out an hour or so sooner. This is good since I have about eight hours of driving today. I would have asked him to take the whole day, but there are some tricky bills that I need to get done and it is almost faster to do them than to try to explain what to do to them.

I may post from Texas, but if not, I'll be back in touch when I get back to my own computer.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

For the birds

Our neighbors, Rich and Peggy, are bird aficionados and gave us a bird feeder for Christmas. Tom mumbled and grumbled about it, but once it was up, he became intrigued and bought more stuff. So the bird feeder sits atop a post outside the dining room window with another feeder hanging on one side, suet blocks nailed to the post and a couple of stuffed seed socks to attract finches.

I got a book on Wisconsin birds and we have begun keeping track of our visitors. So far we have seen a brown-headed cowbird ("A dime a dozen," Peggy sniffed), downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, pileated woodpecker (big excitement!), blue jays, cardinals, juncos (passsing through -- there were tons and now they have disappeared), fox sparrows, doves, goldfinches, chickadees, nuthatches and the occasional tufted titmouse. We also have wild turkeys and crows around, but they don't bother the feeder, of course. We have seen sandcranes and herons down at the pond, tons of redwing blackbirds along the fences on Berry Road and hawks and buzzards circling.

Yesterday Peggy and Rich brought us a hummingbird feeder. Tom had insisted he did not want to fool with one, but I told Peggy I hoped to get one. Last year a hummingbird would occasionally fly into the garage for a noisy inspection, and I think they are great. So Tom has resigned himself to hanging it up. I notice his chosen spot is near where he sits on the little front porch to read...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I have called in my prescriptions and went by the library to get a book-on-CD's to listen to on my trip. I wanted something nonfiction, but neither the Baraboo nor the Dells library had anything worth taking. I wound up getting this novel by Bernard Cornwall. I am interested in Stonehenge, but the main thing it has going for it is that the CD's last 16 and a half hours -- almost exactly the entire driving time from here to Whitehouse. It makes the time go faster and I am not always moving in and out of radio station range.

The car doesn't have a cassette player -- fewer and fewer do these days -- but the libraries haven't yet begun to get a lot of books on CD, although they have tons of things on cassettes. And, naturally, I would rather check it out than invest my own money!

Last fall when I was in Texas, I bought a couple of CD books at a used book store in Tyler. I will have to try them again. One was on the six queens of Henry VIII and the other was a history of Jersualem by Karen Armstrong. I have read a number of her books on Islam, the history of monotheism and Buddhism, and I enjoyed the audio book a lot. She is a former Catholic teaching sister who does a lot of religious programming for BBC.

After I got home from work I dog-sat for our neighbors across the street and waited to let the electricians in. Peggy had to take one of the dogs to the vet and Rich wasn't home yet. They are very friendly, and Tom frequently takes care of their dogs. He was out shopping, though, so I inherited Ivy this time. She is a hyperactive little poodle. I was happy when Rich came in.

Now if I can just get the prescriptions during the brief window of time between when they say they will be ready and the pharmacy closing...

Join the fray

Vince and Kristin also have a blog, for those of you who may not already know that. You can get to it from this page by clicking over on "The Brooklyn Broccolo's" under "Places to Go and People to See" on the right. Glad to have another place to hear what's happening with the folks.

Tom noticed that I didn't post anything yesterday. Guess not much was happening. Today should be fairly quiet, too. I will start doing the bills for the lawyers. Billing takes time and attention, but it is fairly easy.

I should do some more getting ready for the trip today. I need to do laundry, refill a couple of prescriptions, get some cash from the ATM, gather maps and so on. Tom has to go to a meeting of the Stewards of the Wisconsin River this evening, so maybe the cats and I will watch TV.

If anything exciting happens, I'll let you know.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Besides being lawyers and renting out office and apartment space, the Screnocks have a farm. When Joe was in school he had a sheep for a 4-H project, and he decided he would raise sheep on the side as a retirement hedge or something. He has about 30 ewes. When they lamb, sometimes they have triplets, but the ewes are only equipped to feed two. So they abandon the weakest of the lambs. This means that we wind up with a lamb in our office for a while. Earlier in the year it was Bella, and lately it has been Charlie. Charlie is a pretty dark lamb. Maybe his mom knew he was going to be the black sheep of the family. At any rate, he has grown fast and started jumping out of the large rubber tub they kept him in at the office. Now he is in a sort of baby playpen. He no longer has to be bottle fed, but he b-a-a-a-s whenever anyone walks by because he wants to be held.

People on the telephone keep asking me if we have a baby in here. When I explain that it is a lamb, there is usually a longish pause.

What can I say? It's rural America.

Dodd Wood

This is a forest in the Lake District in northwest England. For more photos, click here. There are a group of peaks call the Dodds north of Helvellyn.

This particular Dodd is a small fell (ancient word for mountain, especially one with grazing land on the top) in Cumbria. It forms part of the Skiddaw range in the northern part of the national park. Dodd lies on Forestry Commission land known as Dodd Wood; for many years it was extensively planted with conifers right up to the summit which obstructed the view. However, the Commission started a program of tree clearance from the top of the fell in 2001 and the summit of the fell is now clear; it is hoped that it will revert to heather moorland in years to come.

In recent years Dodd and Dodd Wood have become a magnet for visitors as the area around the southern end of Bassenthwaite Lake is home to the only pair of nesting Ospreys in northern England.

In the 1860s, Dodd was home to a Scottish hermit called George Smith, who became known as the Skiddaw Hermit. He lived on a ledge on the fell in a wigwam type tent made from a framework of branches and built against a low stone wall. He stayed there in all weathers because he liked the outdoor life. He earned money by painting portraits of farmers and their wives, although his favorite subjects were said to be local pub landlords who paid his fees in whiskey.

He also did character assessments at local fairs by feeling the shape of people’s heads. A short book was written about him in 1996 called the Skiddaw Hermit by Mary E. Burkett.

No storms

The weather report had prepared us for very severe storms last evening and all night long -- thunder and lightning, high winds and a possibility of damaging hail. What we got was some high winds and rain. No electrical displays, no hail. The good news, of course, was that we didn't lose power -- a common occurrence around here -- and no hail came to destroy Tom's work getting the yard set up, some grass planted and some new trees out.

Still, it was a bit of a disappointment. I had looked forward to snuggling up in my bed while the storm raged with maybe a cat or two huddling with me. They tend to go hide with Tom, but sometimes one will deign to comfort me. The picture is of Cassidy and Sundance when they were younger and trimmer. Tom calls it "the camouflage cats" because they blend into the upholstery of that sofa. (Tom and Helen named all their cats for outlaws and all their dogs for NASCAR winners.)

I made my motel reservations for my trip down to Texas. I will leave the office at noon on Friday and stay overnight in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. If I get an early start on Saturday, I should get into Whitehouse around four or five.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Milwaukee and woozy

As I suspected, our visit to Milwaukee included driving Bob around to point out new construction and eating at the Maharajah. It was a gorgeous day, and we also took him to have his glasses adjusted at a nice mall/shopping area in one of the ritzier parts of town.

Unfortunately for me, one of the beta blockers I take has a side effect of making me light-headed and dizzy if I am out in the sun too much. I thought I was well protected -- baseball cap, sunglasses, long sleeve shirt. But mid-afternoon, while we sat out having cokes at a sidewalk cafe near Bob's house, the wooziness started coming on. When we got back home, I lay down and read before finally falling asleep. This morning I am better but still a little wobbly.

We had planned to go to the opening of the Leopold Legacy Center today -- in honor of legendary environmentalist Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac, who lived near here and died in 1948. We know Homer Daehn, the artist who designed the beautiful bronze portrait of Leopold for the place. I couldn't find a photo of that to post, but that is a picture of Homer with one of the horses he carved. His studio in Baraboo is a block from where I work. He does a lot of the restoration work on the Circus World Museum's artifacts.

I don't think I am going to risk going anywhere today unless I am fully recovered from yesterday. Tom is going litter-picking along the road with our neighbors, Peggy and Rich. There is not a whole lot of traffic along Berry Road, but it seems to be a favorite place to toss out bottles and cans. Tom told Peggy I am just looking for a way to get out of picking up trash.

It's not fair that going outside in nice weather should be such a problem! Even if it does get me out of litter patrol.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Happy San Jacinto Day!

You didn't forget, did you?

It has nothing to do with San Jacinto Day, but Tom and I are heading to Milwaukee today to visit his best friend from school days, Bob Mitchell. Bob was best man at Tom and Helen's wedding. He retired a few years back from the Veteran's Administration where he was a pharmacist. He had a stroke about three years ago that left him somewhat paralyzed and with some speech problems. When Tom built this house, he had it made completely accessible so that Bob can visit. The doors are all wide, there are no steps and the master bedroom bathroom can accommodate a wheelchair. Since the master bedroom is mine, except when I move out for certain guests, I am the beneficiary of all that space.

Tom gets down to see Bob every few months, and I often go along. Bob is very enjoyable, and I am pretty good at understanding what he is saying. I'm not sure what we'll do. He likes us to drive around town so he can show us all the new construction. With any luck we will get to eat at an Indian restaurant, something I miss from my days in Chicago.

On the wildlife front, last night we went for a walk after dinner and saw a doe down by the pond. It is a rare week that we don't see deer. This week we have also had wild turkeys flapping around. I saw a sandhill crane at the pond earlier in the week, a fequent visitor. A couple of weeks back there was a Great Blue Heron (pictured), the first I had seen.

Friday, April 20, 2007


This is a picture of the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Broadway in Baraboo. The two-story brick building on the corner is a cafe. Right next to it is the Wellington Building. This is where I work in the law office of Screnock & Screnock, Ltd. The Screnocks own the building and rent out office space and five apartments upstairs. The large picture window into our office is blocked by the tree. The office is across the street from the Sauk County Courthouse. You see a corner of the courthouse square in the right foreground.

Baraboo is more famous as the home of the Ringlings of circus fame, and there is a Circus World Museum: Circus World is America's Circus Museum, and Wisconsin's National Treasure! The museum is located at the site of the original Ringling Bros. Circus Winter Quarters - a National Historic landmark located in Baraboo, Wisconsin. The Irvin Feld Exhibit Hall and Visitor Center is the gateway to Circus World, housing extensive exhibits that include The Story of the Ringling Brothers, A Century of Spectacle, Trumpets of Paper, and a big-screen video about the Ringling Brothers. See the Wisconsin Historical Society's Web site for more information. [Click here.]

And for anyone who ever was a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Baraboo is the hometown of Michael J. Nelson. Since he was the head writer before taking over as host, there were regular jokes about Wisconsin Dells thrown into the comments he and the bots made.

Welcome, folks!

I thought this would be a simple way to keep you up to date on the daily (or occasional) meanderings of my life up here in the wilds of Wisconsin. The name and the image are from Sen. Chris Dodd's political campaign, but it does not indicate that I am a supporter. I just thought it an amusing title for the blog.

I will post various things here with some regularity. Thoughts, reports, photos. Nothing too personal or too private, don't worry. If you want to join the conversation, just click on the "Comments" button and add your two-cents. I will set the comments so that I can moderate them to prevent spammers from messing with us.

Here's a sample:

From The Chicago Tribune:
Money really can't buy happiness, study finds
Clergy are the most satisfied with their jobs; lawyers, doctors down on the list

The old saw "money can't buy happiness" apparently holds true when it comes to work.

Highly-paid professionals like doctors and lawyers didn't make the cut when researchers set out to find the most satisfied workers.

Clergy ranked tops in both job satisfaction and general happiness, according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

Other occupations in which more than 60 percent said they were very satisfied included teachers, painters and sculptors, psychologists and authors.

"The most satisfying jobs are mostly professions, especially those involving caring for, teaching and protecting others and creative pursuits," said Tom W. Smith, director of NORC's General Social Survey, a poll supported by the National Science Foundation.

The worker satisfaction study, set for release Tuesday, is based on data collected since 1988 on more than 27,500 randomly selected people.


Clergy ranked by far the most satisfied and the most generally happy of 198 occupations.

Eighty-seven percent of clergy said they were "very satisfied" with their work, compared with an average 47 percent for all workers. Sixty-seven percent reported being "very happy," compared with an average 33 percent for all workers.

Jackson Carroll, Williams professor emeritus of religion and society at Duke Divinity School, found similarly high satisfaction when he studied Protestant and Catholic clergy, despite relatively modest salaries and long hours.

"They look at their occupation as a calling," Carroll said. "A pastor does get called on to enter into some of the deepest moments of a person's life, celebrating a birth and sitting with people at times of illness or death. There's a lot of fulfillment."

These results don't surprise me. I found my time as a priest very rewarding precisely for the reasons noted by Dr. Williams -- the opportunity to be present with people at particularly profound moments of their lives.

I sent a link to this story to Fr. Michael Berry, the vocation director for the Discalced Carmelites -- the guy who does their recruiting and a man for whom I was vocation director -- in hopes that he might be able to use the information in his work. It reminds me of a brochure I designed about twenty years ago -- a mockup of a newspaper job ad boasting long hours and low pay.

Today I miss that form of ministry. Hospice touched into it for me, but in a very piecemeal sort of way.

Now if only I could become a satisfied author ...

Peace and love,