Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Okay, this one is for Daddy, but Mama will have to read it for him. Glad to hear the eye surgery went well, by the way.

Christianity Today -- an evangelical magazine -- reports that a church in Elgin, Illinois is having problems because they bought a building that used to belong to the Masons and the walls have Masonic symbols. Because of the historical significance of the building, they are not being allowed to take down the symbols, which they considered anti-Christian. If you want to read the whole article, click here.
Mama and Daddy may remember that the Monastery at Marylake where I entered the Carmelites had been a Masonic country club at one time, and in the chapel there were two large candlesticks with Masonic symbols on them. The Carmelites just stuck candles in them and kept on praying.
What really struck me about the article, though, was this: "It's hard to believe that Freemasons and similar secret societies were one of the top three social ills targeted by evangelicals of the mid-1800s, along with slavery and alcohol. In 1868, several prominent evangelicals, including revivalist Charles Grandison Finney and Wheaton College founder Jonathan Blanchard, created the National Christian Association (NCA) to warn believers that 'all secret societies [are] deistical, antagonistic to Christianity, [and] tend to loosen moral ties.'"


The Screnocks only handle family law, which means basically we do divorce, legal separation and custody issues. Sometimes we wind up doing something else -- like a will or probate -- because it is part of the overall situation with one of the clients. But mostly we just do in-family fights.

Another attorney, Roger Merry, uses our office, though, to meet with people filing for bankruptcy. His own office is in Monroe, which is about 70 miles away. He is one of the only attorneys in this part of rural Wisconsin who specialize in bankruptcy, though, and he is a sort of circuit rider, meeting with clients in several counties and towns, of which Baraboo is one.

The Baraboo paper has an article this morning about the increase in bankruptcy filings in Sauk County, and Roger is quoted several times:
Nearly twice as many Sauk County residents filed for bankruptcy in the first six months of this year as had at this time last year, mirroring a trend in which bankruptcy filings are up nearly 50 percent across Wisconsin, court records show.

"Everybody who thought about filing filed [in 2005 due to a change in the law], so in 2006, there were very, very few cases," said Roger Merry of Merry Law Offices in Monroe, who has an office in Baraboo. "But I think you have to look at it as 90 percent of bankruptcy is caused by one of three things — unexpected loss of income, uninsured medical expenses or divorce — and that keeps happening to us no matter what."

The new requirements have proved to be stumbling blocks for families of four making $70,000 to $75,000 a year, for example — well above the median income but crippled by a financial crisis nonetheless, he said. Those families are now typically entered into a three-year payment plan instead of filing Chapter 7.

"In the Baraboo area, there aren't that many people making $75,000, so it doesn't have a realistic deterrence in the rural areas like they had hoped," Merry said.

Merry said he also sees clients getting into trouble with credit cards — but not usually for frivolous spending.

"For the most part, I see people using credit cards as a means to try to stop from going under — we can't make it this month, we'll let the credit card balance just go higher," he said. "The mounting credit card debt from the cases I see is that it was a good idea and a noble attempt to pay all your bills, but then when something goes wrong and you miss a payment and they raise your rate from 8 percent to 29 percent, then it's over."
Ironically or sadly, because the new law requires more paperwork and investigation, legal fees from bankruptcy have increased by about 50% in the last couple of years, too. So not only does it cost you more to say you are broke, as I understand it, the lawyer is the first on the list of creditors to get paid, so you are also left with less to try to pay anyone else off or to try to start over.

Recently another law office opened in Baraboo to handle bankruptcies, whereas Roger used to be the only lawyer in the county doing them. I guess other people's problems are good for some businesses.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Naturalist's Notebook

The so-called bees in the earlier post, of course, are wasps.

Tom spent valuable time this morning on the internet looking up ways to get rid of them. Even as I bog, he is putting together a wasp trap out of a plastic soda bottle based on a design he found. I am not particularly sanguine about it, but what do I know?

Given where the nest is located and the warnings online, looks like burning them out is not a good option. So it will probably be back to intense bombardment with wasp spray.

Personally, I think we should have given the sanctions time to work.

Guests for dinner

Our friend Tom from Portage came over for dinner last night. It was a pleasant evening, so after we had everything set out on the dining room table, Tom and Tom went out to sit on the deck while we waited for the rice to finish. When I opened the door to let a cat out and to let them know the rice was done, they decided it was too nice to eat inside. So several trips later we had everything moved to the deck and were preparing to sit down.

Then Tom said the fatal magic words" "I don't think we have any bugs."

This summoned from the depths of the abyss under the deck a swarm of bees.

So back into the house with all the food -- accompanied by a few bees. After getting rid of them, we sat down to a nice meal.


Tom went out this morning and bombed the nest under the deck. It is gi-normomous, to use the technical term. We may hollow it out and make a guesthouse out of it.

Wisconsin Dells is Gorges

Yesterday afternoon we tried to visit Fern Dell Gorge, a narrow sandstone gorge in nearby Mirror Lake State Park. One description says, "The red oak-basswood forest of the valley floor gives way to pines on the cliffs and oaks along the upper edge. The rich flora includes many ferns" -- hence, the name. Tom remembers it from when he was a kid around here, and it is listed on the DNR website. The road to the park is even named Fern Dell Road. But try to find this thing!

The website has a nice description and even picture of the place, but they tell you to stop at the park ranger station to get a map. We did this and discovered that the first two people weren't sure what we needed. The ranger herself wandered in and pointed it out on a map -- NOT a map to the place -- noting that the map was not to scale, that the road didn't look like it was depicted on the map and that the gorge was between two unmarked roads. One did have a gate, so that was a hint. Also, there was no sign indicating the gorge itself. For something that was important enough to get the road named for it, it was sure hiding out.

We got back in the truck and set off again. We found the two roads, parked alongside the road -- no parking area and, as warned, no signs. We walked up a winding path through sandy sand and a beautiful pine forest for a ways, and we saw what had to be the gorge -- but no way to reach it. We assumed when we reached the point where it emptied into the lake, there would be access.

Wrong! A view down into the gorge, but no way down without ropes and climbing gear. Tom was convinced I was going to fall in when I went over for a closer look, which did not happen, I am glad to say. It is a beautiful thing, but no way to reach it. There had been no indication that you could not go down into it, but there was also no sign of a trail at the bottom.

We walked back to the road, keeping our eyes peeled for a path off to the gorge. Then we walked back up the road towards the other gate, looking for access. Nothing.

We were expecting a guest for dinner, so we didn't want to spend more time wandering around semi-lost in the woods. Next time we plan to take the gated road and see if there is a path to the gorge that way.

You'd think it they tell you about this thing, there would be a way to get there.

At least, I would.
I tried to get a photo for this, but the DNR site is not loading this morning. Just more evidence that the thing is in hiding. What do you suppose they are hiding? UFOs?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Performance prayer

Recently I was invited by friends to attend their church on Sunday morning. The people were very welcoming and friendly and obviously committed and sincere in their faith. It was a pretty low-church Protestant service, and in place of the homily or sermon there was a never-ending report on a recent church convocation. I was quite impressed by the practical involvement of the congregation in several local charitable activities. Before the report on the convocation, the minister had the children (about eight or nine of them) come up front, and he sat and gave them a mini-sermon. He did a great job with that part, and preaching to kids is no easy task, especially when a bunch of adults -- including the parents -- are watching you. I wouldn't want to try it.

Although we recited a psalm, listened to a couple of readings from scripture and sang some hymns, it didn't feel very much like church to someone who has spent thirty years worshiping daily in a Catholic monastery.

One thing that struck me was that during the collection, the music provided was a piano-trombone duet. I am not sure what the song was, but it felt like a Cole Porter piece. I like Cole Porter, but I did keep expecting some man in a white dinner jacket and a bowtie to amble over with a tray and offer me a martini. In the report on the convocation mention was made of the jazz music that had been part of the worship, so maybe it is a regular part of their tradition.

It reminds me of some of the oddities I have experienced or heard about in Catholic Masses, too. A few years ago at a wedding in the Philippines -- and this was a Discalced Carmelite, one of my own brothers whom I know well -- after communion and before the final blessing, the priest sang a song from the musical Les Miserables. It's a lovely song, actually, but this is it. In the musical it is a prayer sung by an older man over a young man about to go into battle. Read the words carefully and imagine how the bride and groom must have felt:
God on high
Hear my prayer
In my need
You have always been there

He is young
He's afraid
Let him rest
Heaven blessed.
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.

He's like the son I might have known
If God had granted me a son.
The summers die
One by one
How soon they fly
On and on
And I am old
And will be gone.

Bring him peace
Bring him joy
He is young
He is only a boy

You can take
You can give
Let him be
Let him live
If I die, let me die
Let him live
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.
Do what?

Dry mice?

Two more mice in the traps this morning. We are wondering if the "drought" has something to do with it. We are not officially in a drought in this county, according to the paper, just "abnormally dry". [I love it when they talk technical!] Nonetheless, the lack of rain has begun to effect corn, hay and grain crops, lawns are brown and some trees are starting to turn. The little pond down the road where we see the cranes is extremely low, and the boat tours on the river have been cut back because the river is low and narrow in places.

So maybe the mice are being forced to come inside looking for food and drink. I know that one of the ones that was in a trap a couple of days ago had been chased there by Cassidy, but it may have come in on its own before she started hunting it. Of course, the cats do bring live ones in and let them go to play with them.

At any rate, we are now out of sticky traps and have to stock up again.

I hope this ends soon, although if it is related to the weather, there is no indication of any rain for the next week at least. I hate having to dispatch these little critters and it seems to have become my job.

Good thing I wasn't a Franciscan.

Full steam ahead

Today the local paper published some photos of the train tour group that we went with the other night. Fortunately neither of us showed up in the pictures, so we can't be blamed for anything later.

Anyway, this shows Engineer Bernie Hotszel explaining the operation of the narrow gauge train when we stopped at the turnaround point of the trip. Almost everyone involved in the maintenance and operation of the train is a volunteer, and the engineers put in a twelve-hour day during the season when trains are running. It is the sort of thing that you could never pay people enough to do. Only volunteers will work that hard.

This is Dave Simerson, the General Manager of the Great Northern Railway Society and also a member of the Stewards. The train runs alongside the river, so he is interested in that as well. Talking about volunteers -- Dave actually moved up here to get this thing going and to keep it running. When they do the Santa Train in December, guess who plays Santa Claus?

If you ever come to the Dells to visit, you have to ride this train. As you can see from the pictures, it can be a challenge to get in and out. Tom is tall and wasn't sure he could fold up enough, but he managed. Others were more concerned about squeezing in from side to side. Don't worry. When you visit, we'll pack some baby oil to make it easier to slip through.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Camera van

A few days ago on my way to work, I noticed a strange-looking vehicle in the parking lot of the Motel 6 on the edge of Lake Delton. It turns out it belongs to a guy from Berkeley, California -- naturally! -- who put 2500 cameras, some of which work, on the van he built. He plans to make a movie about how people do odd transformations of their cars and such and in the process change themselves.

If you see this thing around, be forewarned: the working cameras take pictures of the people staring at the van. You may just show up in a documentary.

Gas prices, rain and Reedikulus

It's getting hard to keep up with the manic-depressive gasoline prices in our area. When I went to Holy Hill a couple of weeks back, the price of gasoline had gone from $3.099 earlier in the week up to $3.299 in the Dells, and I saw it as high as $3.399 closer to Milwaukee. Then it dropped down to $3.199, then back up to $3.299, and now it is down as low as $2.979. So we have had a range of forty cents in less than a month. For a while it was fairly consistent as least in terms of direction -- up or down. Now it is bouncing like a superball. I just read an article about why gas prices will continue to rise, even as the price here has dropped. Oh, well.

We got some rain last night, over half an inch. Lots of thunder and lightning, but no loss of power. We are still significantly below average on rainfall, though, and could use a few more rains like that.

The Reedsburg Public Library is holding a book sale this weekend, part of the town's Reedikulus Day. Tomorrow there is a parade with giant puppets created for this event. I doubt we will go the parade, but we plan to hit the book sale today before things are totally picked over. Reedsburg is one of the places that lets you take the books and leave whatever donation you want. It is a great little library. It is the only one in the area that is open for a few hours Sunday afternoon, and they even have free coffee in their reading area. Such a deal!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Local tragedy continues

On summer Thursday evenings, there is a concert on the lawn of the Sauk County Courthouse that is across the street from where I work in Baraboo. Tonight it was the Madison British Brass Band. It is a laid-back, enjoyable event as families and couples and individuals sit on lawn chairs, chat with neighbors, watch the kids climb on the cannon and listen to various groups perform. The Commission for the Aging sells soda and pizza to help raise money for a new facility. Vendors in the street have popcorn and ice cream. A nice small town thing.

This Thursday, there was a different kind of small town thing happening at the court house. You may even see pictures of it on the news -- the trial of sixteen-year-old Eric Hainstock who shot and killed the principal of his high school last fall. This is a tragedy that keeps unfolding, and there is probably no happy ending for anyone touched by it. This is rural Wisconsin, and almost everyone knows someone or the family of someone affected by the shooting. Maybe some of them had been at the concerts last summer when I was there with Tom. The courthouse must not seem so friendly to some today.

Please pray for the family of the deceased man, John Klang, for the students of Weston High School who are having the shock of that day revived by the trial, for Eric Hainstock who is being tried as an adult, for his family as they face the likelihood of their son serving a long prison term, and for the jurors, the attorneys and Judge Taggart who is presiding. I don't know any of the attorneys, although Judge Taggart is someone we deal with all the time. My bosses are not involved -- they do not practice criminal law -- but they live near where this happened.

It is going to be a hard time for a while with this small town event.

I'm being followed by a moonflower

When I was letting Cassidy out onto the deck this evening, I saw what looked like a lily blooming in the back yard. I pointed it out to Tom and learned that is is a moonflower, grown from a seedling given us by a neighbor up the road. They bloom only in the evening, hence the name.

The title of the post is a pop culture reference to a 1971 Cat Stevens song, Moonshadow. Stevens himself claimed that he wrote it while standing on a rock: "And I was dancin' on the rocks there... right on the rocks where the waves were like blowin' and splashin'. Really, it was so fantastic. And the moon was bright, ya know, and I started dancin' and singin' and I sang that song and it stayed. "

But you already knew that...

Hospice cats

Working in hospice, one hears stories about the reaction of pets to dying patients. This is from an AP story about a nursing home cat in Rhode Island:
Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours. His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they have less than four hours to live.

"He doesn't make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die," said Dr. David Dosa in an interview. He describes the phenomenon in a poignant essay in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one," said Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.

The 2-year-old feline was adopted as a kitten and grew up in a third-floor dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The facility treats people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and other illnesses.

After about six months, the staff noticed Oscar would make his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses. He'd sniff and observe patients, then sit beside people who would wind up dying in a few hours.

Oscar is better at predicting death than the people who work there, said Dr. Joan Teno of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home and is an expert on care for the terminally ill

Doctors say most of the people who get a visit from the sweet-faced, gray-and-white cat are so ill they probably don't know he's there, so patients aren't aware he's a harbinger of death. Most families are grateful for the advanced warning, although one wanted Oscar out of the room while a family member died. When Oscar is put outside, he paces and meows his displeasure.

No one's certain if Oscar's behavior is scientifically significant or points to a cause. Teno wonders if the cat notices telltale scents or reads something into the behavior of the nurses who raised him.

Oscar recently received a wall plaque publicly commending his "compassionate hospice care."
I have heard stories like this before. From time to time, Cassidy and Sundance will take a spell of sleeping with me. Most of the time they sleep with Tom. Sundance sleeps right in my face practically, and demands to be in close physical contact. Cassidy sleeps at the foot of the bed, although sometimes she sleeps up against me feet. I tend to think they do this when they are not feeling well and want some comfort. But maybe I should worry about myself?

Or maybe Tom should

You say tomato

Tom gets up early -- around 5:00 or so -- while I like to sleep as late as possible. I wake up, too, but I lie in bed until just before 7:00 most mornings. I am of the "why stand when you can sit, why sit when you can lie down?" school on this one. And I still have plenty of time to get cleaned and shaved and dressed and breakfasted and to work early.

Last night, though, I thought maybe I should start setting my alarm earlier and getting a bit more time to do things in the A of M, so I set it for 6:45. I was going to ease into this gradually, you understand.

Naturally I was wide awake at 5:30. I tossed and turned a bit and finally surrendered to the inevitable and got up. Brushed my teeth, shaved, fed the cats. Saw what looked like a mouse kidney in the middle of the living room floor, but it turned out to be a treat-wrapped pill that Sundance has been refusing to eat, and so she had a wheezing attack last night. Checked the mouse traps -- two more dead mice. Got rid of dead mice and set out new traps. Had coffee and a bowl of cereal. Played Free Cell solitaire. Checked my email and the online news and bloggers that I routinely visit.

Then I went outside where Tom was watering the gardens. The tomatoes have suddenly starting coming into their own, and he hinted that they needed tying up. So I got a holey old dish cloth, cut strips and went out to tie the tomatoes. There are three plants -- two of which are staying nicely within or near their cages. The third is ignoring the cage completely, so I tied it up quite a bit and tied the others just to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Now I know why I have been staying in bed.
I used a blue dish cloth, but it would be perfect to cut up one of those tomato ties for this purpose...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Odds and ends

It must be mouse season again. Yesterday I found three in the sticky traps, and this morning there was a nice big fat dead one lying in the middle of the living room floor.

The Baraboo paper reports that the drought has put the Wisconsin River at its lowest level in decades. The Kilbourn Dam in Wisconsin Dells is only generating 20% of capacity. The reservoir system is at less than 66% of storage. Two-thirds of the state is in moderate to severe drought, while the southwest is digging out from under floods. It looks like Jerry's corn across the road -- that looked so beautiful just a few weeks ago -- will wind up going to silage.

Joe and Evelyn are having good weather for their grandkids' visit, though. Sunday they took them to the pool and skatepark. Yesterday they went on a river tour and played miniature golf. Tomorrow is supposed to be a waterpark adventure. Besides feeding and entertaining eleven kids -- sort of like herding cats, one imagines -- they are also both doing some of their legal work by telephone. As Mama said the other day, they will need a vacation to recover from their vacation.

The railroad excursion was fun. When it was over, my pants were covered with bits of coal ash and cinders. I guess I'm lucky none of the sparks burned holes. They didn't try to get me to pick up trash along the river, but they did put in a pitch for helping replace 4200 railroad ties. I don't think so! I have to mention to Joe that the train might be a nice thing to take the grandkids on next year. Not only is it fun, it is quite educational in an easy-going sort of way. And they have Thomas the Train stuff in the gift shop, which will appeal to the youngest of the kids.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Stewards of the Dells of the Wisconsin River

The web site that Tom has been working on for the Stewards of the Dells of the Wisconsin River is up. Click here to visit it. This afternoon he met with Debbie Kinder to go through it again. I think tomorrow is the actual unveiling, if such be the right word, at a get-together at the Riverside & Great Northern Railway. [Click on the name and visit their site.] This is an operating 15" gauge railroad nearby, open to the public and about a 3 mile round trip through the wooded natural area of the Dells. It is a non-profit preservation society dedicated to the preservation and restoration of steam powered trains. I get to attend as Tom's guest for a tour of the facilities, a train ride and pizza. Such a deal!

I just know that at some point these people are going to expect me to walk alongside the river with them and pick up trash...

Monday, July 23, 2007


I was thinking this morning, as I sipped my coffee and gazed out of the kitchen window at the bird feeders, that I hadn't seen anything new or interessting in the way of birds lately. We are into full summer, and I suppose the migratory birds have gone on and the ones that are here are -- well, the ones that are here.

About an hour later, however, I saw two (2) pileated woodpeckers in the back of the yard. It has been quite a while since I saw one at all, and this is the first time I had seen two. I called Tom -- who was on the phone -- to check it out, and he said he had never seen two at once either. We assume it was a male and female. They look a lot alike and we weren't close enough to make out any differences, although they are so big it was easy to watch them climb up the tree and hop around for a bit before disappearing.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Beacon House and the dragons

A few years ago I started collecting -- accumulating might be a better word -- stuffed dragons. One of the thrift stores where I shopped for clothes in Chicago happened to have stuffed animals. Tom was always on the lookout for monkeys -- the skinny kind with the Velcro hands -- because of his son John having had one as a sort of trademark for his competitive debating days in high school. As I looked for monkeys, I discovered stuffed dragons ranging in size from six inches to four feet. None cost more than three dollars, and Tom bought me one as a joke. After that, I kept an eye out and wound up with about a dozen, several of them the four-foot variety.

Recently a friend, Debbie Kinder, who is working with Tom on the Stewards project mentioned that another project she is part of -- Beacon House -- was given a ton of Teddy bears and decided to auction them off to raise money. I showed her the dragons and gave her the large ones and a few smaller ones to add to the auction. Having seen some of the same ones I have for sale for twenty to fifty dollars, I thought they may bring in a few pennies anyway. She only agreed to accept them after I assured her that neither Tom nor I had spent more than a few bucks on them, and they are clean and (mostly) in good shape.

Beacon House -- full name Beacon House Center for Family Enhancement -- works to help people find jobs and affordable housing. Like most non-profits, they are operating on a shoestring budget. I doubt that the dragons will bring in enough to fund anything major, but every little bit helps.

And now I am not tripping over stuffed animals.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tammy Faye

Tammy Faye died of cancer Friday. A year or so back, Tom and I watched a documentary from Netflix about her, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, made in 2000, tracing her rise and fall and the aftermath of the collapse of the PTL ministry she and her then-husband ran. I admit we got it expecting to laugh at her, but we wound up being moved by her story and came away with respect for her, if not for everything and everyone with whom she had been involved. She came across as a much more nuanced person and a deeply compassionate woman.

She was on Larry King's show Thursday night and died Friday morning. She looked terrible on the show, but one hopes that now -- without those trademark mascaraed eyes -- her beauty as a child of God shines in her Father's house.

Fred's ordination

A few weeks ago I mentioned getting an invitation to Fred Hickey's ordination, and today I went back to Holy Hill to attend it. This time I saw a bunch of friars who were not there last weekend, including Daniel Chowning and Michael Berry. It was a beautiful day -- mid-July can be hot and sticky even here -- and there was a good crowd, including thirty or forty people from Fred's home parish in Michigan who made the trip

Fred is the last of the guys I worked with to finish his training, and at the moment there are no students in formation at all in the province for the first time in it's hundred-year history. Because it takes so long for a guy to go through all his training, even if someone were to enter next year -- no one is entering this fall -- it would probably be 2016 or 2017 before they would be ordained. Not good! Where there have been new members joining in the last few years, they are men who transferred from other provinces, meaning there was no real increase in Carmelites, just a redistribution of those who were already in the Order.

In Africa, on the other hand, the Carmelite community is growing. The Kenyan part of the province, where Steve Payne is stationed, has four young priests, four young solemnly professed brothers and fifteen seminarians. And that has all happened in the last twelve years.

On the critter front, Cassidy seems to be doing better but Sundance started hacking. So Tom called the vet and now both cats are getting medicated.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Sick kitty

For the last few days, we have been finding evidence around that one of the cats is not well. Not big or messy messes, but clearly something has been not going down well.

We finally found out it is Cassidy when she began having sort of dry-heave attacks and acting like she was trying to cough up her toenails. This morning Tom took her to the vet, who said she had [insert favorite not-too-serious feline respiratory disease name here] and gave him some antibiotics to give her in pill form, along with a tasty wrapper to put it in so that she will take it. They experimented with the wrapper and apparently Cassidy think's it's the cat's meow.

This is a big relief, because last year when Sundance was sick, it took both of us to hold her down and force the pill down her throat. The next round we got the meds in liquid form, which she still resisted but we found easier to get her to swallow. Of course, afterwards she hated us intensely for several hours.

Knowing Cassidy, once she has taken all the antibiotics, she will expect us to wrap her food in the tasty wrappers to make her happy.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Boy in the Library*

Yesterday afternoon I went to the library to drop off some books and to look around. I didn't find anything I particularly wanted, but as I was leaving, a young guy (college age?) walked out ahead of me talking agitatedly on his cell phone. There are signs everywhere, of course, asking you to turn the things off, but -- hey! It's a library. Who reads?

Anyway, he was saying something along the lines of this: "Yes, that's my telephone number and somebody has been running around writing it on bathroom walls and I'm getting really angry and am going to call the police if this keeps up."

Storms through door into hallway in full huff mode.

"Well, yes, I am looking for a good woman, but this is not how I want go about it..."

At that point he went out the back door as I went out the front and I have no idea how the rest of the conversation went.

Just goes to show how little you know. I knew guys wrote names and numbers on the walls as a prank, but I never knew women did, too.

Of course, he may just have been a drama queen trying to get some attention...
*Pop cultural reference to one of Agatha Christie's early Miss Marple books, The Body in the Library.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Over-readers Anonymous

Apparently there was once a blog with this title -- Over-readers Anonymous -- but it has disappeared. I always thought I had made it up.

I was thinking about it today after my experience last night. When one of the ladies was asked what her favorite television show was, she looked shocked. "I watch the BBC news and maybe Frontline sometimes," she said, adding emphatically, "if it's new. Otherwise, I'm reading."

Later one of the couples was talking about how their sons (college age now) never picked up the reading habit. "They just spend their time watching television or on the internet." As the politicians would say, heads were shaken.

When I was in the monastery, I spent most evenings in my room, usually reading a mystery after I had completed my work for the day. Others watched television. I know some people thought it admirable that I read at night, and were disappointed that other friars wasted time watching the tube. But what difference, really, was there between me reading an Agatha Christie novel and someone else watching the fine BBC television adaptations of the same novel?

The boys on the internet may be playing computer games, but if they are surfing the web, they are reading, aren't they? Maybe not what someone else might want them to read, but they are reading. In fact, with the way the net works, they may be jumping from factoid to factoid and actually picking up some interesting info along the way. (The parents made it clear that the boys read the books for their course work and do fine in school.) I know they may be looking at unsavory pictures, but as I recall, the print media always made those available, too, even when I was a teen back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Admittedly the internet has contributed to a growing problem with pornography, but the people last night weren't complaining that their boys were watching internet porn. They were just concerned that they were on the internet instead of having their noses poked into a book.

One of these guys has recently started ordering -- and reading -- books from Amazon.com. What did he order? The Iliad, The Odyssey and a volume of Greek mythology. His interest in boyhood games of fantasy has led him to study the classics of Western civilization.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tuesdays with Murder, Part Deux

Tonight I went to the meeting of the mystery book club. As mentioned as my plan in my earlier post, I made the chicken salad recipe -- not the world's best, in my humble opinion, no matter what Ms. Myers calls it! It all was eaten, though, and the others all said it was good.

There were thirteen people there, eight women and five guys. Two of the guys were husbands who came with their wives for the meal, I think. Interestingly for me, one husband-wife couple are lawyers in Baraboo that I knew by name but had not met.

"Oh, you're the Michael on the phone," Gretchen said when I mentioned that I worked for Screnock & Screnock.

People were nice, but it was not a very interesting event. I may give it another chance and hope that without the distraction of food, we will actually talk about books. Tonight there was more conversation about television programs, pets and such than about reading. It was okay, but not what I had been looking forward to doing with my evening when I signed on for a book club.

The weather report had offered possibly severe thunderstorms tonight, which would have made an appropriate background for a murder mystery dinner, but as usual, nothing came of it. We could sure use the rain, but the storms that do come our way have gone above or below or alongside without giving us much beyond an occasional flash of lightning and distant rumble of thunder.

The one bit of excitement came on my drive home. Just as I came over the top of a hill, a car turned left abruptly in front of me, and I as I drove past, I heard tires squeal and saw them go off the road and plow into a wooden fence. I found a place to turn around and came back to check on. It appeared to be a young father and two kids -- under ten, I would say -- all of whom were out of the car and clearing broken fence rails away. I asked if they were okay or needed me to call for help, but he calmly assured me they were fine. He acted like it happened every day and the kids seemed no more agitated than he was. Maybe it does happen every day...


Sunday, July 15, 2007


Monday, July 16, is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the most important Carmelite family feast day of the year. I take this opportunity again to ask you to remember my friend, Jean Sleiman, Latin Archbishop of Baghdad, and his people. In 2004, I helped organize his visit to America -- he is a Discalced Carmelite himself -- and I stay in touch periodically by email. There is a small community of friars in Iraq, some foreign-born, but some Iraqis.

The situation for Christians in Iraq continues to deteriorate. Most of them are not Roman Catholic, but belong to much more ancient Christian churches although today they recognize the authority of the pope. There is credible historical evidence that there were Christians in the area in the second century. Before the war, there were about 1.2 million Christians in Iraq out of a population of 25 million. Ironically, Saddam Hussein was often kinder to Christians than to other Muslims, and Christians suffered little or no persecution or hatred from their Muslim neighbors. That has changed radically, not in terms of official government positions but in terms of violence perpetrated by Muslim extremists on all sides. There have been kidnappings and murders of clergy and slaughter of Christian families. It is estimated that well over half of Iraq's Christians have fled the country and most others have been displaced. Caritas, a Catholic relief organization, has estimated that it is far worse -- a population that was once 1.2 million people has been reduced to only about 25,000.

Here are a couple of quotes from people who have fled:
"There is no future for Christians in Iraq for the next thousand years," says Rayid Paulus Tuma, a Chaldean Christian who fled his home in Mosul after two of his brothers were gunned down gangland style. His pessimism is shared by Srood Mattei, an Assyrian Christian now in Kurdistan: "We can see the end of the tunnel—and it is dark."
So please pray for all these people. Were the violence to end tomorrow, the chances that they will ever be able to return to their homeland are almost nonexistent.

Many Iraqi Christians of the Assyrian rite came to the United States decades ago and settled near Detroit and Chicago. Every year in mid-August a large pilgrimage group comes to Holy Hill, and it is always the biggest pilgrimage of the year.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Jubilate Deo

Yesterday I missed work for the first time in years for being sick. I must have eaten something bad on Thursday, because starting late that afternoon I started feeling bad and my stomach was a mess all evening, all night and much of Friday. Even Pepto-Bismol didn't do the trick.

Fortunately I was enough better today to be able to go to Holy Hill to celebrate with Steve Payne and Fred Alexander on the twenty-fifth anniversary of their ordination. Steve is in the States for just a few weeks before he heads back to Kenya, so I was grateful he was coming to Wisconsin and that I got to visit with him briefly. Steve is one of the few white Carmelite friars in Nairobi, and Fred is the only black one in Wisconsin. I also saw a bunch of Carmelites and other friends from the days when I was at the Hill. It was a nice Mass and a good time. Next weekend I hope to be there for Fred Hickey's ordination to the priesthood. He was deacon at today's Mass. When I told him he looked very diaconal, he said, "Yeah, I'm just getting the hang of it and I just have a week of it left."

Jubilate Deo is the beginning of Psalm 100 in Latin: Make a joyful noise unto God. Diaconal means having to do with a deacon's role at Mass.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A young girl

Most of the people in hospice, as one would expect, are older. Some of the folks I dealt with were middle-aged, but there was one eleven-year-old. Dyan Orr died Wednesday afternoon, after a 2-year battle with a rare disease -- a lymphatic disorder and Gorham's Vanishing Bones Disease. The lymphatic disorder damaged her lungs while the Gorham's Disease ate away at her bones. Because her family felt that she was well cared for by the Lutheran ministers at their church, they did not request visits from a counselor from hospice, but I heard reports of her ups and downs in the bi-weekly staff meetings.

Tom talked to her father, Mike, pictured above with Dyan, when he ran into him in Baraboo today. Needless to say, he was devastated. The family knew that Dyan was doomed, but when the person is so young hope springs eternal that some new development will come along to save her life. Such was not to be. Dyan had already arranged with her parents for doctors to examine her body after she died in hopes that it will help someone else.

I know that her parents, Mike and Tonya, would appreciate your prayers.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Death of Lady Bird

The death of Lady Bird Johnson reminds me of what happened when her husband died in January of 1973. I was in the novitiate at Marylake, and we had all gone up to Evening Prayer except for one of the old Spanish priests who had poked his head into the TV room to catch the headline news. LBJ had just died, so Fr. Evarist was the first to hear it.

When he came upstairs to the chapel, rather than just announce it, he waited until the Prayers of the Faithful -- when we prayed for particular intentions -- and prayed, "For the repose of the soul of President Andrew Johnson."

Andrew Johnson? Why are we praying for Andrew Johnson? Was it his birthday, the anniversary of his death which had taken place in 1875?

LBJ died at home and had not been hospitalized, and we were not expecting his death. So we were all puzzled, until after vespers when the prior went to find out what Evarist had meant.

And that's how we found out the Lyndon Johnson had died.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Financial disclosure statement

The price of gasoline has bumped back up to almost $3.20 around here. That is an increase of a dime overnight. Between the end of April and the end of May it went up about seventy cents -- almost 25%. Then it started dropping back down to a little over $3.00 for a few days, but now it's heading up again.

I figure about 20% of my expenditures are gasoline/car related -- and 80% of that is gasoline for commuting to and from work. My biggest expense is health: almost 60% of what I spend goes to insurance and prescriptions, even with my plan. There is a possibility -- slim, but possible -- that in the not-too-distant future Wisconsin will have a universal health plan for residents for which I would qualify. It would cost perhaps as much as I am paying now, but the coverage would be way better for doctor and hospital stuff. Probably the biggest financial impact of leaving the Carmelites was the loss of their amazing health coverage.

Fortunately, due to Tom's great generosity, my other living expenses are very low and I am still able to save a reasonable amount of my earnings. In addition to putting aside a chunk my regular paychecks, I try to put all of the money I earn from the Carmelite Institute -- teaching in the distance learning graduate program, writing and editing -- into my money market account.

Of course, if I ever get my mystery published, I am sure the movie rights alone will bring in a small fortune...

Seriously, one of the things I do for the lawyers is type up financial disclosure statements for clients, and that is often a sad job. By comparison, I not only have no cause for complaint, I have cause for gratitude.

I just need to remind myself of that more often.

Wisconsin wildlife again

Last night Tom and I wandered over to Rich and Peggy's because Tom wanted to present her with the purple flamingo for her yard. Poor Peggy recently had surgery and is still recuperating, and I assure you that a flamingo for her yard will not hasten the healing process. It was a source of amusement for Rich and a couple of other neighbors -- David Foster and his son Kevin, a high school senior -- who were there with Iggy, their English spaniel-like pup. David said she is really a Llewellyn setter -- there's a good Welsh dog for you! Anyway, Kevin was there talking to Rich about tinting the windows in his car. Kevin does all sorts of yard work and things for them, and Rich does auto body work. There may be a bit of barter going on, or Rich may just be mentoring the kid along. Anyway, he was duly amused by the flamingo and semi-shy in the presence of silly adults the age of his parents -- or grandparents!

Peggy meanwhile had told a story about trying to drive earlier in the day and finding she wasn't up to it yet. I think what made her think of it was that she was wondering how far she would need to go to dump that flamingo.

A squirrel knocked out power in Baraboo last night, but paid for its behavior by getting cooked. "Fried", I think, was the adjective used in the newspaper article quote from an Alliant representative. Fortunately the power was only out for about an hour and the weather, which had been hot and muggy, was pleasantly cool and breezy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I was shocked to hear about Buddy's death, although it was obvious when we visited him in May that he was quite weak.

Buddy, Florence, Phyllis and Rex were almost part of my daily life when I was growing up, living down the road not all that far. I went on and moved far away and they were no longer always there in the same way. But they were an important and valued part of my own story, and it saddens me to lose one more connection with the way life once was.

A Presbyterian minister once told me that at funerals he always preached on John 14:2 -- "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you."

The only thing we know about heaven is the only thing the One who had been there told us -- In our Father's house, there's lots of room.

I guess I hope Buddy's room is just down the hall a piece from mine. It will make it seem more like home.

Morning animals

About 5:20 this morning I was awakened by the sound of thumping and claws scittering on the floor in the living room. A second later Cassidy, Scourge of Rodents, came flying into my bedroom, following thumps around the room and then into my bathroom where the thumping and scittering continued.

"Awfully big mouse," I thought, creeping out of bed and peeking carefully around the bathroom door.

There was Cassidy, all puffed up in the middle of the room, staring at a baby rabbit about five or six inches long, hopping around in the shower stall. I picked up the rabbit, which seemed relatively undamaged, and took it to the front door and let it go. It just cowered on the mat, but I closed the door and went back to bed. By then Tom had gotten his pants on and was coming out of his room to find out what was going on. I think he must have thought I was having a seizure or something.

I didn't really get back to sleep, of course. That would have been asking too much. When I finally got up and checked, the rabbit was gone. I assume it made it back to wherever Cassidy had found it.

I'm amazed that she was able to squeeze something that size plus her own oversized self through the cat-door. Tom thinks maybe she has a key to the front door and uses that when we aren't looking.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


What with all the flamingos and stuff, you may be wondering what kind of person Tom is. Well, as you know, before his retirement he was an IT consultant for GM, partner in his own firm, and before that he had been a share partner in a big law firm in Chicago. He used to run the RCIA program at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish (that's the classes for adults who are entering the Catholic church). He and Helen raised four of their own kids and a foster son. He was one of the judges for the high school debate competitions in Chicago, and he also taught at the Law School at Loyola University Chicago at one point. He was a medic and a Green Beret in Vietnam. Sounds pretty responsible and steady, right?

Well, mostly. He is, however, subject to BSOS -- Bright Shiny Object Syndrome. It doesn't take much for something to catch his attention and distract him. The whole "boys and their toys" thing. For a while it was cowboy hats, then it was ponchos (he had a whole Clint Eastwood motif going there), then it was trucks, then bird feeders, then it was flowers, then it was a motor scooter, then it was air conditioning and lately it has been flamingos. Since he is retired, there is nothing to drag his mind back into focus, and you never know what will catch his attention next.

I noticed this long ago when we were talking and something would catch his eye, and he would be off. I began referring to it as "bright shiny object" and now think it is a full-blown syndrome. I intend to write the American Psychological Association to see if I can get in in the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, now in its fourth edition).
The photo is of "Cloud Gate", a 110-ton sculpture that is part of Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. It is the biggest bright shiny object I could think of.

Sunday in Wisconsin

The backyard flamingos apparently didn't like Tom's mowing this morning, so they moved around to protect the flowers in front of the house. They also must have decided that the Mardi Gras beads were worms, because several of them have beads drooping from their beaks.
This photo, incidentally, is not of our yard but of a yard in Austin in front of a business run by a guy named Pat Swanson. To quote from the website: "It could be said that the first battle to keep Austin Weird was fought over those gloriously goofy birds. It seems that at one point the "Fathers of Westlake" considered the birds a blight on the upscale community and sought to have them removed. Other Westlakers were up in arms over the prospect of losing the flock. The battle drew correspondents from AP, UPI, CNN and NPR, and even Jay Leno joked about the brouhaha on the Tonight Show. In the end, the pro-flamingo crowd won and the Pots and Plants lawn became a sanctuary for the beloved birds, reminding us that free spirits still prevail in Austin."
On the way to the funeral yesterday, we passed St. Joseph Catholic church in Adams, and there were For Sale signs out front, marked Commercial because it is right on Main Street, I guess. I gather they are building a new church or have merged with another small parish nearby. A lot of rural Wisconsin was settled by Catholics, and in the country they built a parish about every five miles -- the distance it was easy to travel in about an hour on Sunday to make it to Mass. Today, even though the Catholic population keeps growing, there are far fewer priests, so a lot of the smaller parishes are merging. The Lutheran minister who had the funeral serves two small parishes up here, ten miles apart.

Periodically I see real estate ads for churches for sale in the area. Recently the First Christian Science Church sold their building in Baraboo. It was a beautiful old house, and I suspect it had not been changed too much to turn into a church, given the nature of their worship. I ahve read that churches can be hard to sell, and a Jesuit in Boston who specialized in helping monks and nuns sell their old monasteries and convents said that it was hard to sell the buildings. Often the property is beautiful and well located, and sometimes the monastery had been an old mansion. But not that many people want to live in an old mansion today, especially after it has been chopped up into tiny rooms for nuns. The guy who bought the Carmelite's old house in Brookline eventually tore it down because he couldn't find another buyer for the building.

St. Cecilia Parish in the Dells is planning to build a new church because of the crowds in the summer. As it is, on Sunday there are two Masses going on at the same time at the 10:00 o'clock, and there is also a Mass at 8:00 and one Saturday evening that is for Sunday. Periodically a Polish-speaking priest comes to hear confessions and another comes for an occasional Mass in Polish. The pastor, Monsignor Felix G. Oehrlein, the pastor,took me to out for lunch last year not long after I moved. He was hoping he could sign me up to cover some Masses for him, but I explained that I was no longer functioning as a priest. Very nice guy, though.

This afternoon we went to check some flea markets and garage sales, mainly to get out of the house. It was so warm, though, that most of them had folded up and moved on. We drove around a little and I showed Tom where a friend of ours lives in Baraboo. A bunch of antique cars went by at one point, but we don't know where they came from or were going.

We wound up going to Farm & Fleet, where Tom got a red Farmall cap, then on to Menards. Up here there are two chains -- (Blain's) Farm and Fleet and (Mills) Fleet Farm. Pretty much the same sort of place and even very similar logos...I was told that they were originally one store owned by brothers who feuded and split the company up. Apparently that is just folklore, but they were founded the same year. Mills has 30 stores in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. Blain's has 33 in Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. You can see how people get confused.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Amen, amen, I say unto you...

On the way back from the funeral, we were talking about the minister's sermon.

I said that the family would like it, that they would forget any little slips and remember that he had said nice things about Mr. Wegert.

I also told Tom about an experience with the nuns in Barrington. I gave them two retreats -- which meant two half hour conferences a day for eight days each time, plus a short homily at Mass every day. I also preached a short homily every day for the nine months I was staying there while on my sabbatical back in 1993-1994. They had also invited me to preach two novenas for Our Lady of Mount Carmel -- which meant I had preached 18 longer sermons on the Virgin Mary -- and let's be honest, how much can you say? In addition, they had had me preach or give lectures for a number of special events over the years.

So when they invited me to give the novena yet again a few years ago, I told them all of the above and said, "You've already heard everything I have to say."

Sr. Mary Margaret looked at me pityingly. "Oh, Michael! You thought we were listening."

So much for self-esteem!

I told Tom that most people seemed to like my homilies. For one thing, they were generally short. And the other was that I have a sort of pleasant, calming voice. I was just a relaxing drone in the background while they daydreamed.

Funerals, heat, procrastination and flamingos

Tom and I went to Harvey Wegert's funeral today in Friendship, about thirty miles away. He would have been 92 on July 27, and he and his wife, who died a year ago, would have been married 70 years next year. They had 17 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren and 2 great-great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Wegert -- Viola -- was a twin and her sister Iola had married one of Harvey Wegert's brothers. Evelyn said that brother was quite a bit older than Harvey -- her dad was the youngest of eleven -- and that she had hardly known that uncle. She had always wondered why Iola had married a man so much older. Reminded me that when Muggie married Albert Mitchum, he was eighteen years older than she was.

The minister mentioned that in all his years of ministry he had met only one married couple who celebrated 70 years together. When he asked that woman, while he was looking at their wedding picture, what kind of shoes she had worn, she said, "Pastor, when we got married, they hadn't invented shoes."

It was a quiet day, otherwise. Too hot to do anything, with temperatures hitting 90. Tomorrow threatens to bring 96 degrees and scattered thunderstorms. Although we had some rain this past week, we could sure use some more. I suspect you folks in Texas would send us some of yours if you could...

Tom is supposed to be working on the history of the Dells for the website he designed for the Stewards of the Dells of the Wisconsin River. He seems to be looking for other things to do instead. I know all about that kind of procrastinating when it comes to writing, but right now I can feel all self-righteous. I just finished an article on the translation that appeared in the book I mentioned earlier (see the post for June 23), and I mailed it out Friday. My copies of the book itself arrived last week, and it looks great. It's not my book, but 40 pages of it is. With any luck, the article will get published sometime early next year.

Tom, meanwhile, went into the Dells and bought six more flamingos for the growing flock out front. While I did the technical assembly work -- sticking the metal legs into the bodies -- Tom took the first flamingo he had bought, which had faded to a pale pink in the direct sunlight, and spray painted it purple. He had also picked up some Mardi Gras-type beads to drape around its neck. Perhaps a bit much, but it did distract him from writing that history of the Dells... And we figure it will add to the amusement/amazement of our neighbors as they drive by. Not sure what it is doing to the property values around here.

For those of you keeping count, that makes fifteen flamingos along the front drive and nine in the back guarding the bird feeders.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Tuesdays with Murder

There is a book club at the Baraboo library for people who like mysteries. It meets the third Tuesday of the month and is called Tuesdays with Murder. The July 17 meeting will be the first one I attend, so I will have to let you know what I think. Looks to be about twenty people involved, although I don't know what the regular attendance is like.

The July theme is Murder on the Menu and we are each supposed to read a murder mystery that includes recipes and bring a dish that is made from one of those recipes for a potluck dinner. I have actually read quite a few mysteries of this nature -- there is a whole mystery-with-recipe genre -- but I have been having a hard time finding something for this occasion. This afternoon I went by the library and settled on Between a Wok and a Hard Place by Tamar Myers. The author is the daughter of Mennonite missionaries and the protagonist is an Amish woman who runs a B&B called the PennDutch Inn. I used to like the books a lot, but after a while I got tired of them. This one is pretty good and has the added advantages of (a) being readily available and (b) containing a simple chicken salad recipe that should fit the bill for the potluck nicely.

What I wanted to make is a cake that is featured in the Agatha Christie mystery, A Murder is Announced. The cake is called Delicious Death, although it is not the instrument of murder in the book, neither poisoned nor in any other way dangerous except to the waistline, I suppose, or to the heart since it supposedly involves tons of butter and eggs. Although it is supposed to be based on an actual dessert, the recipe is not included and a Google search did not turn one up that sounded remotely plausible. It would be cheating a bit, too, since we are supposed to cook something from a recipe included in the book. Still I love the title -- Delicious Death! You often see things like Death by Chocolate on dessert menus, but I have never seen Delicious Death anywhere.

Helen's husband Jay wanted a cake for his last birthday that is a tradition in his family or some such thing. It is a Jack Daniels' Chocolate Birthday Cake and includes a couple of cups of Jack Daniels, 2 ½ sticks of butter, 2 cups of sugar and gobs of whipped cream among other things. We wondered if there should be an ambulance waiting outside while it was being eaten, just to save time when they had to call the EMTs.

The photo is of chocolate macadamia nut brownies from a cookbook, Death by Chocolate by Marcel Desaulniers

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The truck that went up a hill

Tom says that today trucks full of fill have been going back and forth on Berry Road up to Christmas Mountain all day. He assumes someone is building a new house up there and they are trying to level out a spot big enough for the McMansions that now dot what used to be Coon's Bluff.

It is hardly a mountain, so I thought maybe they are just following up on the idea from the movie, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. It was supposedly based on an actual incident in Wales in 1917 where the villagers of Taff’s Well (Ffynnon Taf in Welsh), upset that the English government claimed their nearby mountain was only a hill -- because it was less than the requisite thousand feet in height -- carried enough dirt up to pile into a mound of the top to make it qualify as the mountain they always had considered it. The English had first called it Garth Hill, but later revised the map to say "Ffynnon Garw Mountain - 1002 feet."

So I figure the resort development folks -- "Christmas Mountain is a Bluegreen Corporation Resort" -- are trying to sneak a mountain in where before it was just a hill. It seems the elevation at the summit is indeed 1,250 feet -- but that is above sea level. The base is at 1,000 feet-- making the "mountain" a whole 250 feet high.

Gayfeathers, angry feathers, flowers, food and foolishness

One of the wildflower/native prairie grasses that Tom is trying to get established here is the gayfeather. It is just now starting to come into bloom and is attracting bumblebees, hummingbirds and butterflies. Yesterday I saw a Monarch butterfly on it, the first one I have seen this summer.

The hummingbirds also like another one of the purple wildflowers in the back that looks a bit like a sweet pea, but the two couples that live here fight over the hummingbird feeder out front. Apparently they are very territorial, but I only notice their noisy battles around the feeder, not around the flowers.

Tom wanted some more ground cover to put around front by the house, so we tried Wal-mart and Home Depot. Pretty sad pickings over at Wal-Mart at this point. Even their cacti looked shriveled up. Home Depot was better, but they didn't have exactly he what wanted to match what he had brought up from Chicago. We got some hostas for under the bathroom window at my end of the house and some impatiens for under his study window.

Tonight we plan to make three dishes -- lasagna, a chicken pot pie and a tuna noodle casserole -- for me to take in tomorrow morning when I go to the office. Joe is supposed to meet me there at 9:00 and pick them up to take home after he gives me my orders for the day. He and Evelyn spent all morning at the funeral home today, so I only talked to him briefly on the phone before I left at noon.

As for the foolishness, we noticed that one of the resorts here had advertised fireworks last night, but viewing was restricted to registered guests. I assume they meant seating and so on was restricted, because I'm not sure how you keep other people from seeing your fireworks display up in the sky and all. Unlesss they think they really do own the land and the sky above it...

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

July 4th: A Retrospective

We had a brief but intense thunderstorm last night and more rain during the night. I woke up snuffly and opted not to go to the parade. Tom had to march, so he got all dressed up in white and blue -- Lucy had "borrowed" his red belt and took it back to Chicago -- and headed south. He left me with the list of local fireworks displays to decide what to do later.

So I stayed home with the cats -- Cassidy curled up on the middle of my bed while Sundance sat on their daybed in Tom's office and kept guard over the front yard. I reread some more of Karen Armstrong's book on Buddha, watched a little TV and generally goofed off. Although it is only a one-day break from work, it reminds me that it would be nice if every work week had a holiday in the middle. (I have gotten so lazy in my old age. Or maybe I have always been lazy and am just now willing to admit it. No comments necessary!)

Tom said the parade was a lot of fun and the crowd cheered them all along the way. He had managed to get a red belt somewhere along the way, so he was there in his true colors.

I have friends who live in Bristol, RI, not far from the Carmelite nuns in Barrington. The stripe down the middle of the main drag is painted red, white and blue because Bristol has the oldest unbroken tradition of a Fourth of July celebration in the nation -- beginning in 1785. So here's a tip of the hat to Irene and Ruth over in Bristol.

We went to the fireworks in Reedsburg again this year. It is a pretty good display, about twenty minutes' worth and they managed to sneak it in between a couple of light rain showers. We got wet, but not too bad. On the way back, we could see the finale of the display on Christmas Mountain up the road from the house and another one over in the Dells.

In 2003 I was with some friends on the Capitol lawn in DC for this. We saw the PBS broadcast of A Capitol Fourth live, with Dolly Parton as the headline act. Way cool!

But, as I told Mama, when you're in the dark, it doesn't matter if you are on the Capitol lawn or the field outside an elementary school in rural Wisconsin, fireworks are pretty much fireworks -- bright and loud and much of a muchness.


Just before lunch Joe called to let me know that Evelyn's father died this morning about 9:00. He had taken a turn for the worse yesterday, and this was not unexpected, but still hard, of course. I understand all of his children were there at the time. I will be holding down the fort at the office for the next couple of days, rescheduling and so on. The funeral will be Saturday morning. I may have mentioned that for the past three years Evelyn has stopped in every day to check on her father (and mother until Mrs. Wegert's death a year ago). Even after the business of taking care of everything over the next few weeks -- selling the house and handling the other legal issues -- it will mean a big change in her daily life. Joe and Evelyn love to travel, and for the past few years she has been very reluctant to leave town because of her parents. I know she would rather see her dad every morning than be free to go where she wants, but this will mean she can visit other family members around the country without worrying about how he is doing.

Mr. Wegert was a veteran. He may have been pleased to die on July 4th.

I ask your prayers for Joe and Evelyn and for the rest of Mr. Wegert's family.

May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.