Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's the not-so-great pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

Today Wendy from the Sauk County Corporation Counsel's office called. When I answered the phone, she identified herself and asked if I were wearing a costume.

"Well," I said, "I'm not wearing a tie."

Apparently quite a few people do wear costumes to work. I saw it at Wal-Mart and in some of the shops around the square. In fact, at lunch there was a table with several middle-aged ladies dressed as witches, cheerfully eating with several other women dressed normally. (Normally? That doesn't sound polite, somehow. And when did women younger than I am become middle-aged?)

It reminded me of my favorite Halloween costume story. Back in 1987, I was the new novice master for the Carmelites (the guy in charge of the students during their intensive second year of training), and as such, a fairly big fish in a pretty small pond. I happened to be in DC for a meeting at Halloween, and Steve Payne and I decided to go over to Georgetown after dinner to see the crowds. I had some kit I had found at Walgreen's to make myself up like a cat. (See the photo for an idea of how this worked.) It required no costume or mask, just the face and whatever you chose to wear. I just followed the simple directions about how to do it, and it turned out remarkably well. Anyway, I had my cat face, put on a letter jacket and jeans and went downstairs to wait for Steve. He is always late, so I wandered into the television room and sat down in the back.

One of the older priests came in without seeing me, went to the television, fooled around and then turned and caught sight of me. I hadn't said a word. At the time, one of the postulants (guys in their first year who would be coming the next year to the novitiate under my direction) was named Richard Clark. A great guy, and we were then about the same build, hair color and so on. Fr. Regis assumed I was Richard, and snarled, "I'm going to tell the novice master," hoping to strike fear into his heart. In the old days, the person who was novice master was highly respected, considered one of the most exmplary of priests and somewhat feared as being a strict disciplinarian.

"I am the novice master," I replied.

Regis nearly hit the floor.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Deep in the heart

From the Houston Chronicle online:

Oct. 29, 2007, 12:49PM
State report says Texas has too many reports

AUSTIN — The Texas State Library and Archives Commission is declaring there are too many state reports.

It says so in a 668-page report.

The project took 18 months and included the commission's small team canvassing more than 170 agencies, and public colleges and universities, checking on all the reports they are assigned to do.

In the past, the state regularly compiled a list of about 400 reports that agencies were required by the Legislature to produce. But the commission found more than 1,600, and state records administrator Michael Heskett is pretty sure his team hasn't found them all.

Heskett's initial findings indicate more than 400 report requirements are obsolete, duplicative or not needed as frequently as currently required.

If you want to read the whole story, click on the Houston Chronicle above.

Having spent many years as part of a religious bureaucracy, as a part of the legal bureaucracy now, I can assure you that the proper response to this finding is to establish a new commission and have it file its interim report in time for the next session of the legislature with a final report to be completed in time for the following session.


Just watch.

(See, I do keep up with the Texas news.)

Latter Days

When I left the office today, I saw a couple of guys walking along the sidewalk at the traffic light and knew they were Mormon missionaries. Sure enough, when I went by I could see their name tags: Elder N-----.

When I was still in Chicago, I often wound up riding the bus with a couple of young Mormon missionaries who caught the bus to Hyde Park at the same place I did when I got off the Red Line. One of them was quite outgoing and friendly, but his partner not so much. The friendly one wound up sitting next to me the first time I noticed them. I was reading John Boswell's Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. He glanced at the book and leaned closer.

"Is he for or against?" he asked me.

I explained that it is a history, but that Boswell was certainly for them. I introduced myself as a Catholic priest and asked how his mission was going. We had a nice chat the rest of the way. It turned out that they were staying in the house next to the monastery. His companion looked uncomfortable. He had just started his mission, but the one who did all the talking was near the end of his two years.

I saw them from time to time after that. The friendly one always wanted to know what I was reading, and I suspect I was the only Catholic priest he had ever met. One time he'd see me and I would be reading a biography of Shakespeare or the history of the court of Henry VIII. The next time might be a book on the Eastern Orthodox theology of marriage or a book about famous hoaxes or something about Islam. I'm sure he was a bit perplexed by it all.

Eventually he moved on to other fields ,and the uncomfortable one warmed up a bit when he had more experience. At least he would respond to my greeting when he got on the bus with a newbie.

Twenty-two year old elders.

The Carmelite monastery in Hyde Park had belonged to the Mormons before the friars bought it. Small-world-note: Tom was one of the real estate attorneys involved in the Mormon's sale of the property to the friars.

Also, I don't know if I have mentioned it here, but the friars have closed that community and sold (or are selling) the property. That foundation only lasted about ten years. It was purchased as a house for students, but they haven't had any students for a couple of years, have no students right now and none who would be going on there for at least another two or three years.

Monday, October 29, 2007

But whenever Monday comes

(From the Mamas and the Papas 1966 hit)

When I went into work this morning my work space was filled with boxes. Joe recently got new furniture for his office, and over the weekend his brother and one of the tenants helped him dismantle the old setup and move in the new stuff. This meant I inherited a large credenza and all the stuff that has been accumulating thereon and therein for a year or so. All this had just been put into large boxes and piled around my chair, and the only thing to do was to clean it up. Joe was amazed at how quickly I turned that disorder into order, but we still spent a big chunk of the morning moving things around. I also managed to type one of the papers due in his lit class this week, but there is another one due on Thursday. I got Evelyn's bills out and about half of Joe's. So on the whole it was a fairly productive day.

Tom went in and spent half the afternoon showing Joe how to use his new laptop.

I get paid for my efforts.

Tom got a bunch of fresh parsley from the garden.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Last night we went to the Sauk County Historical Society's Annual Haunts of Baraboo walking tour. It took about two hours and we visited a number of historic homes and sites downtown, including a house built by a Civil War veteran, a home of a local man who died in the Sauk County mental hospital, a house that had been built elsewhere and then moved when the railroad didn't come through where it was expected (sounds like Perryton), the local funeral parlor, a beautiful Victorian house with an Irish wake in progress, a haunted dry goods store (the only ghostly spot on the tour) on the site of a hotel where Mary Todd Lincoln once stayed (she's not the ghost), and ended up at the Al Ringling Theater. They had a good turnout, and it was an interesting way to spend a crisp October evening under a just-past-full moon. It was about 34 degrees when it ended, but we had checked the weather beforehand and were appropriately bundled.

The Al Ringling Theater was built as an opera house by one of the Ringling Brothers, Baraboo's most famous residents, and continues to host movies, concerts, plays and various other community gathering. No phantom, but the organist did play the Harry Potter theme as we left.

At one point our tour group was joined by a man who clearly had a few under his belt. He began by announcing he wanted a ticket, holding up his cell phone. The guide told him to just stay where he was and join us. He wandered away and back a few times, engaged Tom in conversation -- "I'm just a drunk wandering down the street and you people looked like you were having fun" -- before he stumbled away and headed back to Monk's, a local watering hole. Since there were a number of costumed people who were part of the tour experience at various places, I wasn't sure if he was going to turn out to be a local ghost or not, but apparently he was just enjoying his Saturday night. I did notice when our group walked past Monk's on the way to the Al that a few folks peeled off and joined our friend in the bar.

I think that was Halloween for 2007.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Snickers, Part Deux

Tom bought some Snickers ice cream the other day, so I checked out the "nutrition" information panel. One serving is 170 calories. A serving size? One half cup.

Go to your kitchen and get a half cup measure. Do you think that is a serving of ice cream?

Me either.

Belle Boyd continues

This morning the local paper, The Wisconsin Dells Events, carried the following article about the Belle Boyd haunting story that Debbie Kinder had shared with Tom and the newspaper reporter:

Soldiers surprise cemetery sexton

Hearsay and rumor often drive a community's ghost stories. In the case of Belle Boyd, a legend in her own right, rumor has it that the former groundskeeper at Spring Grove Cemetery left his post while mowing the lawn after seeing ghosts near Boyd's cemetery site.

"As the legend goes, he saw some soldiers dressed in Confederate or Union uniforms walking up to her grave, and he realized he could see right through them," current Cemetery Sexton Bob Hall said. "Whether that's true or not is another matter."

In his nine years as cemetery sexton, Hall said he has not experienced anything of that magnitude.

Boyd was a Confederate spy during the Civil War. Though she was born in Virginia in 1844, she died in Kilbourn on June 11, 1900.

Her cenotaph in Spring Grove Cemetery reads, "On May 23, 1862 at the battle of Front Royal, Belle Boyd, then 18, ran across the battlefield between the firing lines with information for Gen. Stonewall Jackson on the disposition of Union troops. With this information, Jackson broke through and captured Front Royal. Union forces under Gen. Banks were driven from the Shenandoah Valley."

After earning fame from the war, a novel concept for a woman at the time, she became a celebrity of sorts and held speaking tours throughout the country. While on tour in Kilbourn, she died in her hotel room at Hile House located near where the Visitor and Convention Bureau stands downtown.

Haunting the Traveler's

After the Hile House, the building became Traveler's Hotel/Motel and was run by the Hess family until it was torn down in 1985. Though Mike Hess was just a child at the time, he said there were several stories circulating that Boyd's spirit never left.

"There were instances where footsteps were heard upstairs when nobody was there," Hess said. "I lived in the first floor at one time, and my brother was up on the third floor. When I went up to see him, there was a door that blocked off the third floor from entry and when I knocked on the door there were footsteps coming across, and nobody answered. I asked my brother about it later, and he said nobody was home. So there was definitely something there."

Hess also recollected an instance when he made a sandwich in his first-floor unit and placed it in the refrigerator.

"When I came back later, there was a bite taken out of it, and nobody else was there," he said.

When Hess was helping with remodeling work at the Bennett Studio, he said Ollie Reese had a coffee can of dirt from Boyd's grave. Reese told Hess he was meaning to send it to Virginia to rest her soul. But as far as Hess knows, that never happened.

"Maybe it was because she was a Confederate spy and was buried here that her spirit worked up here," Hess said.

I'm reading the book she wrote about her exploits during the war, and Tom and I visited her grave this morning. I asked if he knew where it was, and he said it should be easy to find. Although there is a Civil War memorial at the top of the hill in the cemetery, marked by a life-sized statue of a Union soldier, Belle's is the only tomb marked with a Confederate flag.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Deer running along side of Birchwood Road in the ditch.
Deer in the headlights ambling across Birchwood Road a block away.
Deer running across Trout Road twenty feet in front of the car.
Fox trotting down Birchwood Road in the morning ahead of the car.
Eight finches hanging to the finch sock at the same time.
Three titmice arguing over the whole three's-a-crowd thing on the main feeder.
A fat bluejay eating from a cob of corn Tom threw out back.
Empty melon shells where Tom had thrown some tiny split melons under the feeder.
A big yellow squash looking forlorn and unwanted where Tom threw it out back.
Heavy equipment across the way at Rich and Peggy's digging out a ravine and placing huge rocks to stop the erosion.
Jerry and Peggy having, er ... polite words over how this would affect Jerry's planting corn in the adjacent field.

Goodnight, moon!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Another tenuous Texas connection

I stole (and edited) this story from Tom's blog. Debbie Kinder told it to him yesterday when they were out canoing in the Wisconsin River.

Wisconsin Dells is home to the grave of Belle Boyd, a Confederate spy during the Civil War. Born in Virginia, she married after the war and lived in Texas. In her later years, after her marriage dissolved, she began touring, giving dramatic readings of her exploits during the war, performing her show in a Confederate uniform and cavalry-style hat.

As Belle's bad luck would have it, she died on tour at the Hile House in the Dells in 1900, and was buried there at Spring Grove Cemetery, with military honors, by the local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Belle's grave is in Spring Grove cemetery, and has become something of a monument to the Lost Cause. It is elaborate, as local graves go, and is marked by stones from each of the states of the Confederacy.

As Debbie told the story, the cemetery's Sexton, once removed, was cutting the grass a number of years ago when he saw what appeared to be a Civil War reenactment. A small band of Confederate soldiers was in formation near Belle's grave. The Sexton, initially angered because he was supposed to have been notified of any reenactments, apparently realized that this wasn't a reenactment, got off the mowing tractor, left, quit and never came back.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Kristin tagged me and I am supposed to list five random things about myself.

1. I love good Mexican food and good Chinese food, neither of which is readily available where I now live. There is okay Mexican and okay Chinese, but not great. This makes me sad.

2. I am always reading several books at the same time. For example, at the moment I am reading Medicus by Ruth Downie (a mystery set in the Roman Empire during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian), Fire and Blood: A History of Mexico by T. R. Fehrenbach and a biography of Cervantes by William Byron. I am also reading (if that is the right word for flipping through and wasting time before falling asleep) The Essential Calvin and Hobbes and Da Brudderhood of Zeeba Zeeba Eata by Stephan Pastis. Reading makes me happy. Sometimes.

3. I think I was a cat in a former incarnation. Well, not really, because I don't believe in reincarnation, but I do love to take naps and I can sit around all day and stare into space. And I like to be petted and have someone else wait on me hand and foot. Not that that is likely to happen! But I suspect it would make me happy.

4. I have just completed revising a couple of short stories that I am thinking about submitting to a contest for Wisconsin residents, although neither one of them has anything to do with Wisconsin. I have had non-fiction articles published in English and Basque, but I can't find anyone who wants to publish my fiction. This makes me sad.

5. I know the Archbishop of Baghdad and met the present Pope when he was still a cardinal. One of them makes me happy.

I don't know who else out there is even reading this blog, since it is mostly for family, so -- Yo! You! Consider yourself tagged.
(If you don't know how this game works, you have to post five random things about yourself on your own blog and then tag five other people. I know, I know! It's a bit like the chain letter thing I don't do, but not quite the same. I am not forwarding this to you through a gazillion possibly-virus-infected computers.)
The guy in the picture is actor Eddie Cahill. He played the character Tag, Rachel's assistant and short-term boyfriend on Friends. No real connection, just a bad visual pun.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dodds in Space

When I was checking my books out of the library tonight, the young librarian gave me a funny look. I figured it was because of my usual strange mix of books, in this case The Essential Calvin and Hobbes and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds. (As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.)

Instead of asking me what that was all about, she asked me if I were related to the Dodds in Oshkosh. Seems she went to school with some Dodds there. Does anyone know if we are?

Last year the head librarian asked me if I were from the Dells area, because she had graduated with someone named Dodd. I can't find any Dodd listed in the telephone directory for the Dells or Delton area, although there are a couple of Dodds in Portage and another couple down in Prairie du Sac.

Turns out the Dodds in Oshkosh are known to my friend Michelangelo, though, if you want to talk about a small world. And when I was in Chicago I had a seminarian named Tim Dodd who came to me for spiritual direction. He's now Father Dodd. When I was in the monastery in Brighton, Massachusetts, there was a Father Michael Dodd living at a monastery only a few blocks away, which led to some confusion from time to time.

We're everywhere, we're everywhere.

Kinda scary, huh?
The illustration is a panel from a 1952 Mark Trail comic strip by Ed Dodd.

The Dodds in Space title is a pop culture reference to a running skit on The Muppet Show called Pigs in Space. Nothing meant by that!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The San Francisco treat

Recently I got an email from Kristin that instructed me to send recipes and then to forward the message to twenty other people, promising I would get at least thirty recipes back. (Okay, that's not it exactly, but you get the idea. In fact, you probbly got the same email. I know Tom got it from Chris Kimball's wife a week or two before I got mine.)

I explained to Kristin that I don't like getting these things -- turns out they sometimes carry viruses picked up as they move through computers all over the place, and Tom once spent all day rebuilding my hard drive as a result -- and was not planning to pass it on. I did send her a couple of recipes, though.

I saw today that one of the co-inventors of Rice-a-Roni just died. Turns out that he and his brothers created that product based on a recipe one of their wives got from a landlady.

So who knows what treasures might have lurked in my email box if I had only done what I was asked!

I used to love the Mexican version of Rice-a-Roni when I was in high school and making my own dinner before going to work at night at the drive-in. I would make a box and eat the entire thing myself, if memory serves. According to their nutrition information, that was only two servings at 250 calories each. Not too bad, really, considering what a nightmare that Snicker's bar turned out to be. It had to be healthier than that.

I used to make an eat an entire box of Noodles Romanoff, too, and I suspect the fat and socium contents would have been through the roof. I don't know if they even make it anymore. Sure was tasty, though.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday afternoon in the country

Today started out beautiful, but about midafternoon it clouded over quickly. They are predicting a fair chance of showers after midnight and into tomorrow with a high of 48. Today it was in the low 70s.

Rich and Peggy bought a beautiful coffee table from one of the artists on yesterday's tour, so we went over to admire it this afternoon. Then they came over to admire the stained glass now that it is in place. Rich had recommended the stained glass artist to Tom, and he and Peggy had considered buying the piece that Tom got. There has been some debate about how well it works with the wall color and whether or not it, the door, the ceiling, the floor or possibly the distant horizon is actually level. We will have to learn to live with it.

It doesn't show up all that well in the picture, but it has a definite presence in reality and helps define the library space even more than it was before. On the other hand, you can see that it lets plenty of light in, and that had been a concern. I think it is a success. Tom says he would not have bought it except for my enthusiasm, which is a nice thing to say but is the sort of thing that makes me reluctant to express an opinion when it involves him investing any real money.

Yesterday afternoon we saw a dozen wild turkeys in a field, and today I saw a bluebird up near the corner of Jerry's farm. I know that bluebirds are around, but I have not noticed a lot of them.

Between here and Reedburg there is a line of trees with leaves so pale yellow that they actually look white.


This is a painting called Cowabunga by Greg Zeszotarski of Adobe Rose. This is not the painting I got Tom, but the scanner did not reproduce that one very well and this is the only sample of the guy's work I could find on the internet that would give you an idea of what they are like. The one I got Tom is a single cow standing behind some wildflowers and wearing sunglasses with red, yellow and blue striped frames. The painting itself is about 5 inches by 4, like a largish postcard.

Greg and his wife Chris are lovely people. She makes earrings and is laughing all the time. She not only remembered that Tom had bought one of the paintings a year ago, she remembered which one he bought. When he asked her how she did that, she said it was because he took forever to make up his mind to buy it.

He's as "frugal" as I am.

The stained glass

Here is the stained glass I mentioned in the previous post. Of course, to appreciate the colors you need to see it with the light shining through it. It is reminiscent of some Frank Lloyd Wright windows, I think, but warmer in color.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Arts and stuff

We spent much of today visiting the studios of various working Wisconsin artists. Artists in southwest Wisconsin have an annual Fall Art Tour to stir up business among people who are already driving around looking at the foliage, in a spending mood and thinking early about Christmas. These are real artists, and some of the stuff they have is amazing. Prices are reasonable -- given that it is all original art.

One place we stopped was at Adobe Rose in Lone Oak. They produce the cow paintings that Tom likes so much, and I had promised to get him one for Christmas. I picked one out and got it (big investment -- $10!), and he decided he also wanted another one, so he bought that for himself for now. The one I bought got put away in the closet to wait for gift giving.

We also stopped at Evergreen Glass outside of Baraboo, where Tom made the real purchase of the day, a stained glass panel, which he plans to hang inside the patio door next to where he reads in the library. It is about two feet by three and should make a gorgeous addition to that corner of the room. The name of it is Autumn Equinox. The artist is a man about my age who was stationed in Germany when in the service, and he got interested in doing stained glass as an art project. After he retired, he and his wife started doing glass art full time. He does the stained glass, and she does fused glass pieces -- vases, plates and such things.

I have a picture of the stained glass to show you, but that will have to wait. Blogger is having one of its frequent "we don't know why it's not working but we're trying to fix it so please be patient thank you" and so on episodes. I will try again later.


Last night with some friends the topic of character defects came up. I pointed out that I don't have any character defects, just charming personal idiosyncrasies.

For example...

You are cheap. I am frugal.
You cheat. I am clever.
You are angry. I am passionate.
You are frivolous. I am fun-loving.
You are pushy. I am assertive.
You are rude. I am honest.
You are judgmental. I am principled.
You are secretive. I am discreet
You get the idea.

Anyway, when I listen to the folks running for president, I pay attention to their language. A lot of it is passing off their own character defects as charming quirks while condemning other people's style as character defects.

Oops! There I go being principled, again.

Friday, October 19, 2007

That God made birds...

This afternoon I was noting how many birds were hanging on the feeder, and Tom jokingly said they were eating us out of house and home.

"I must spend a hundred dollars a month on them!" he said.

That was an exaggeration, but it is true that he invests in a lot of seeds and finch sox to keep them happy. But I think we both find the investment gives a good return.

I went to get my book of poetry by Jessica Powers, and read him the opening lines of this:
By Jessica Powers (Sr. Miriam of the Holy Spirit, OCD)

That God made birds is surely in His favor.
I write them as his courtesies of love.
Hidden in leaves, they offer me sweet savor
of lightsome music; when they streak above

My garden wall they brush my scene with color.
They are embroideries upon the grass.
I write the gayest stitched-in blossom duller
than birds which change their patterns as I pass.

I nurse a holy envy of St. Francis
who lured the birds to nestle at his breast.
Yet I am grateful for this one which dances
across my lawn, a reckless anapest.

Subjects for gratitude push up my living
praise to a sum that tempts the infinite;
but birds deserve one who psalm of thanksgiving
and these words are my antiphon for it.
I was blessed to know Sr. Miriam for the last several years of her life. She was a bit birdlike herself, and a woman of great wisdom. She was a well-known American poet before she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite nun in 1941. Sr. Miriam was a member of the monastery in Pewaukee, not far from Holy Hill, and I used to go over there to give conferences and to hear confessions every couple of weeks.

One of my favorite stories is from the time before she was a nun, when she was living in New York and got into an argument with someone (an editor, probably, and I suspect it was a priest) over what was the greatest attribute of God. The other person held out for Truth; Jessica was in favor of Beauty.

Years later she told a friend, "We were both wrong. The greatest attribute of God is Mercy."

May it be so.

Winged things

On my way back from Baraboo this afternoon, there was a huge flock of birds rising out of a field the other side of the casino, flying across the road, dipping down, rising again and returning to circle the first field. It was almost like watching an ocean wave breaking on the beach.

Much prettier than the sight of at least eight buzzards circling downtown Wisconsin Dells yesterday evening just before sunset when I was coming back from the library. Around here one can always hope large birds are hawks or even eagles -- if you are near the river -- but the red heads gave them away. I did see a large hawk, though, when I got back onto Berry Road, sailing along right at treetop level ahead of me.

Three does were grazing on the side of the road at the Berry/Birchwood intersection. They aren't winged, but I thought Id mention them anyway.

Meanwhile, the birdfeeders are being swamped as the migratory birds pass through on the way south.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lowells speak only...

You have no doubt heard the old toast:
Here's to the City of Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod;
Where Lowells speak only to Cabots,
And Cabots speak only to God
When I lived in the monastery at Brookline, it was in a mansion that had once belonged to the Cabot estate. Across the street some of the Lowells had lived.

One who had lived there was the poet, Amy Lowell, pictured above. A largely self-educated woman -- although she lived until 1923, in her social class education for women was not considered important -- she wrote poetry, lectured on it, published and promoted it. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize after her death. She was the first woman ever to be invited to lecture at Harvard. The fact that her brother Lawrence was at the time President of Harvard may have had something to do with it. As you can see from the photo, she was a large and powerful woman and is generally considered to have been a lesbian. She died from a hernia she got when she single-handedly (well, she probably used both her hands) lifted a buggy that had been driven off the road in a thunderstorm out of a ditch and back onto the road.

Joe is taking a course in modern literature and every week I type a short paper for him. Today it was about a poem of Amy Lowell's.

Small world.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Health food

Recently I went out in the cold, rainy, windy night to buy some health stuff. My doctor thinks that folic acid will help reduce polyps, and with a colonoscopy coming up in the spring, I try to do what I can. He likes me to take fish oil tablets, too. And I usually eat a high protein, low fat power bar for breakfast and occasionally for lunch. So I picked this stuff up, checking the various power bars first to find the one with the most grams of protein, the least grams of sugar and fat.

To reward myself for being so careful, on an impulse I got a Snicker's bar at the checkout. It was a fair sized thing, but it was the smallest they had on offer. Nothing special, no Swiss dark chocolate or macadamia nuts. Just a plain old Snicker's. From force of habit, I looked at the nutritional information. Just 170 calories! Really. Not bad, huh. Then I noticed -- that was for one serving. Now you may think a single candy bar is one serving, but it is not. According to the marketing geniuses at the Snicker's labs, a serving is 1/3-- that's right, one-third -- of a bar.

Of course, that is ridiculous. This is not some giant Hershey bar neatly divided into sections that you may actually break off and eat over the course of a week. This is a single-unit candy bar, and no one is going to eat a third of it, wrap the rest back up in the paper and stuff it in his pocket for tomorrow. But it sound so much better to say it is 170 calories a serving than it does to say it is 510 calories a bar.

That is just 10 calories less than a Taco Bell 7-Layer Burrito.

Which I would rather have that a candy bar, but am afraid I would turn around and my doctor would be standing behind me in the line. I just know those things are a breeding ground for polyps.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


The grade sheets finally arrived from the Carmelite Studies Program at the Washington Theological Union. These are for students from the spring semester, and I have been asking (nagging) for them since June. Last Friday, the Director and I had two telephone conversations about them. I am not sure which of us keeps the worse records. She seemed to think I had only had two students last spring who completed their work, and I was pretty sure I had three. So I dug through my files and found the grades for all four of them.

I have two others who registered last spring -- one of whom did three of the four papers and then had some serious health problems. I am not sure if he will finish up or not. The other one is someone I have had before who never finishes on time, so I am just chalking that one up as a lost cause most likely. In addition two others are in process. One has disappeared into the U.S. military in Korea, and I suspect he will have little time for the reading and writing involved. The other has sent in his first paper already and looks to be a serious student.

I am glad to finally get the grades submitted, but I am even happier to have finally been paid!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Jewelry and more

Tom and Helen decided to make necklaces for their children for Christmas, so Friday they went to Madison and bought a variety of beads. Then they tried out various combinations and made progress. Progress, not perfection -- that's the motto.

We went out to Field's for the Friday fish fry that had been recommended to us by Debbie Kinder -- and who should we run into when we got there? Debbie, her husband, brother-in-law and her mom. The fish fry was as good as advertised and probably twice as much fish as any one person should eat at a sitting. Too late we realized the meaning of the "Second plate" charge on the menu. It is the sort of place Mama and Daddy should go -- they are used to people ordering one item and splitting it.

This morning we went to Baraboo, stopping at the bead store so Tom and Helen could gather more beads, and then into town for the Faire on the Square, a fall arts and crafts show. I was most impressed by some folks who had landscape stones (small boulders to add interest to your lawn) that they would engrave for you on the spot. They were doing beautiful work, but it was a bit like getting a tombstone for the front yard. Nice rocks, though.

I woke up with a joint ache this morning, and although I took some medication for it, I decided to skip the hike up Louis' Bluff with the Stewards of the Dells after lunch. Since Helen was going with Tom, I didn't feel too guilty. When they got back they told me I had chosen wisely -- it was not so much a hike as a scramble up a pretty steep path. Beautiful views and all, but not a place to risk twisting already achy-breaky joints. I stayed home, tended Buddy the Dog, Sundance, Cassidy and the chili that was perking gently away in the slow cooker.

As soon as they got back from the hike/climb, Helen and Tom sat back down at the dining table and began work on the necklaces again.

This is a happening weekend up here. Wisconsin Dells is also having its Autumn Harvest Fest. Seems like it was just a week ago that they did Wo Zha Wa, but who am I to complain. It is a tourist industry town, so the more folks they can lure up here every weekend, the better for the local economy. At least they got decent weather -- coolish and a bit cloudy, but no rain or wind. (The picture is from their web site, but I have no idea what is going on in it.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Book news

After Tom looked over the contract from the literary agent and raised some questions for clarification -- which I resented, of course, because I want the book published -- I went online and did some research. In spite of the terms of the contract I was sent, this firm has a terrible reputation and obviously is not someone to get involved with.

Also obviously, I should have checked them out when they first contacted me last year.

So another lead bites the dust!

But I am lucky to live with a lawyer, even if I don't always like his observations. Thanks, Tom.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


And some days things happen...

Today I got an e-mail from a literary agent who has looked at my mystery novel and wants to represent me. Tom, Helen and I will review the contract tonight and most likely I will sign it. This means someone will actually be working actively to find a publisher for the book. Also good news is that legitimate agents don't really make any money off of you unless they sell your book. So no upfront investment or anything like that.

So say a prayer. Even if she were to find a publisher quickly it would be some time before it ever appeared, but with a literary agent under contract, I will feel like a real writer.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

De nada

Cloudy, cold and blustery day. The flockette was foraging in the backyard around dinnertime again.

Finished up the book on Aldo Leopold and started one on the Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears.

Tom made a chicken dish for dinner that smelled a lot like the barbecue weiners that Mama used to make -- and tasted a bit like them, too. The cookbook gave it a fancy-schmancy name like Chicken Piquante, though.

Helen and Buddy the Dog are due to arrive sometime tomorrow. Jay is going to be away for a few days, and they are taking the opportunity to visit. As usual, Tom has meals and activities planned for the whole stay. I think he missed his calling. Instead of a real estate attorney, he should have been a caterer or maybe a cruise director.

Okay, how obvious is it that I have nothing to say today?

De nada is Spanish for "You're welcome", more or less. A more literal translation would be "of/from nothing" (like, "It's nothing, don't mention it"), so I picked it for the title of this post which is definitely made up of /from nothing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Totally Tuesday

Not much to report....

I got a royalties check today from ICS Publications for the translation that they published this year. That was a nice surprise because I thought it had been one of those projects that I was just doing for free.

They started work on the shoulder of our road today. They came out and did a nice job on one side of the middle. Then they went home, apparently. Well, if the rest of it looks as good, we will be quite satisfied.

The construction going on up by Wal-Mart continues apace, and they keep changing the traffic pattern. Today I nearly got run over by a semi when the driver made a left turn right into the oncoming traffic lane -- and I was the oncoming traffic. The turn he made would have fit the traffic flow last week, and I suspect he didn't see that they had moved the traffic cones in the middle. At any rate, no one was behind me and I was able to back up about half a block so he could complete his maneuver. Such excitement!

What's odd about it is that they had a flagman stationed down by the exit ramp, where the traffic pattern is pretty obvious. and traffic comes from one direction. There was no one at the Wal-Mart juncture where traffic comes from four directions, people are making right and left turns as well as trying to get out of the shopping center parking lot, the construction machinery is rolling back and forth and all that jazz. Later when we went up to the Home Depot, I noticed that they had moved the flagman to the Wal-Mart spot where he was doing a good job keeping things moving under cloudy skies, windy and cold. It was below 50 degrees at five o'clock and going to a low of forty tonight.

Around 5:30 our little flockette of turkeys wandered around the back yard, attracting the cats' and my attention by their clucking. They seem to be putting on their winter fat, too. We (they) are right in the middle of the fall wild turkey hunting season, which runs from mid-September to mid-November. It is also deer season for bow hunters, black bear season in parts of the state with variations, and various other critters. Badgers (the state mammal), woodchucks and flying squirrels are protected, but you can take all the possums, skunks, weasels and snowshoe hares you can find anywhere, anytime.

Monday, October 8, 2007


On Saturday it almost hit 90 degrees around here.

The forecast for this coming Friday is a low of 36.

The Wisconsin tourism slogan used to be "Escape to Wisconsin!" You saw it on bumper stickers everywhere. A couple of the novices at Holy Hill got one and clipped out the "to" -- "Escape Wisconsin!"

But other than that...

Synchronous Stratford

One of the local heroic figures is Aldo Leopold, whom I have mentioned in this blog before. A remarkable man who began as a Forest Service employee in 1909 and became a leading figure in the development of the science of ecology, he spent the last years of his life in this part of Wisconsin. My first acquaintance with him came from reading a book that Tom recommended to me when I was still in Chicago, A Sand County Almanac, which I read on the train to and from work each day. I little realized at the time how important he and the book were. I was just reading it to learn more about the part of Wisconsin where I was moving.

Recently I picked up a book about Leopold that showed up on the "New Books" shelf at the Reedsburg Library – Aldo Leopold's Odyssey: Rediscovering the Author of A Sand County Almanac, the published version of Julianne Lutz Newton's PhD dissertation in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. (Not too promising, huh?) It is interesting to read how his interests evolved from managing national forests in the southwest to an appreciation of the complexities of land management that included the role of game and other wildlife, grasses and so much else.
Rusty, you will be happy to know that he was an enthusiastic hunter and fisherman, and part of his motivation in all this was making sure that fish and game continued to flourish for the sake of future generations of hunters.
Part of the background of his story is the development of land usage in the country as a whole, and right now I am reading the section about the Dust Bowl era.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, there on page 154 but a photograph with the following caption:
One of the most catastrophic dust blizzards of the 1930s arose on April 14, 1935, which became known as "Black Sunday." It swept from Western Kansas and Oklahoma, approaching the small town of Stratford, Texas (pictured here).

When Ted and Cynthia moved to Stratford, I looked for information about it on the internet and for photographs. This picture was the only one I could find at that time. How weird to run across it in the middle of a book I am reading about someone connected to where I live.

There was another photograph of the storm hitting Stratford, taken on the same day, April 18, 1935:

I hope it's not as dark in Stratford these days!


More synchronicities: Aldo Leopold was born in Burlington, Iowa -- which is where the Wisconsin legislature met after they met in Belmont, Wisconsin which Tom and I visited yesterday.

I have been thinking about a simple chair for Tom to build for my room, and when we were at Pendarvis, I saw benches that looked very much like what I had in mind. Turns out they are called Leopold benches -- because they were designed by Aldo Leopold.

Looking for local news on the internet this morning, I found a story about the appointment of a new pastor for the Catholic Church in Dickeyville where the Grotto is that we visited yesterday, too.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sunday drive

Today we drove down to the southwestern corner of Wisconsin to enjoy the countryside and to see some of the sights along the way. We pulled off at a "scenic overview" below Spring Green that had an intriguing view of part of The House on the Rock, the so-called Infinity Room (pictured) that extends out over the valley below.

The we stopped off to see a bit of Pendarvis, part of an 1840s village settled by Cornish miners who had come over to work the lead mines. There are tours, but we would have had to wait too long for one, so we will probably visit it again sometime when we have guests to entertain as well.

From there we went on to see the first state capitol of Wisconsin. Notice capit-O-l, not capit-A-l. The building in what was then Belmont, near what is now Belmont, was where the legislature first met, but Belmont was never designated the capital (city). That was designated as Madison by the legislature meeting in Belmont, but the legislature met in the building at Belmont, making it the first capitol (building). The fun part is that they also met at what is now Burlington, Iowa, meaning that the second capit-O-l of Wisconsin was in Iowa. (Wisconsin Territory included much more than what is now Wisconsin State.) [Okay, Rick, I know the Iowa reader(s) will enjoy that, but one might say that this means Iowa's first capit-O-l was in Wisconsin, so we won't push it.]

We stopped off in Platteville for lunch. Travelers' Tip: The Lighthouse Inn in downtown Platteville has a Sunday brunch. It is a lovely place and the waitstaff is attentive and friendly. Don't eat there.

Our next stop was at the Grotto in Dickeyville. The photo is of the entrance. The entire effect is almost indescribable, so I stole this from another website:
Father Matthias Wernerus built a Crucifixion Group in a corner of cemetery of the Holy Ghost Catholic Church Parish in 1920. In 1925, he built the Eucharist Altar. From 1925-1929, he worked on a much bigger project: the Holy Ghost Grotto (also known as the Grotto of the Blessed Virgin).

The Holy Ghost Grotto is 25' high, 30' wide, and 25' deep. Thousands of colored stones, molten glass, gems and jewels are embedded in cement. On each side of entrance is a pillar bearing a flag – one for religion, one for patriotism. The altar inside has statues of angels, the Virgin Mary and Child.

The Grotto was actually a community project. Concrete was poured into slabs or modeled around metal forms and then studded with bits of glass, tiles, crockery, stone, shells, costume jewelry and other materials donated by parishioners.

In 1929, Father Wernerus began another shrine entitled "Patriotism in Stone", a tribute to Columbus, Washington and Lincoln. While gathering materials for another work, Wernerus caught pneumonia and died in 1931.
Apparently the foundation for this was dug by the parish schoolkids, who were given 10 cents, a cookie and a glass of wine a day for their efforts. What is amazing is that this is a fairly tacky place, but years of devotion and effort went into making it, and between 40,000 and 60,000 people a year are said to visit it. Tom and I were two of them today.

ON the way back we drove along the Wisconsin River and enjoyed the hills, the valleys and the river views.

A full day!

PS to the Brooklyn Broccolos - including Kirstin: We will show you some of the more local sights when you visit. November weather may not make a trip to southwestern Wisconsin all that good an idea. On the other hand...

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The creepy nun

On my post that mentioned the nuns on the Jones Soda label, Kristin commented (and then Justin commented on the comment, I think) about the creepy nun at Mama and Daddy's, the statue of St. Therese that I brought back from Mexico many years ago. Her feastday was last week, October 1 -- same day as Ted's birthday. And I don't want to creep Kristin out even more -- but she died when she was 24!

Feline fun

Last year we got the cats a lot of toys, hoping to find something that would entertain them and us. You know, catnip-filled mice, plastic balls, whatever. As it turned out, the two best things were a laser penlight -- chasing the little red dot of light drives them bonkers -- and these glittery pom pom balls. I don't know what it is about them, but while the cats will disdainfully ignore all the other toys we throw at them, these things get them chasing all over the house, over and under furniture, wherever they can toss the thing. Maybe it has something to do with the glitter strips that makes it look like it is moving even when it is sitting still. What makes this better than the penlight (other than the fact that we seem to have misplaced it and have no idea where it is) is that you don't have to do anything but throw it out there once. The cats do the rest of the work.

Friday, October 5, 2007

More signs of autumn

One of the less attractive signs of the season is the swarm of Asian ladybugs crawling around the windows and doors of the house. These are not the friendly ladybugs everyone likes to have in their gardens. These beetles -- introduced into the country in the 1990's -- seek out overwintering spots in houses. They have an unpleasant ("noxious") odor and leave a stain if smashed. Fly away home, indeed!

Other local signs are the strange offerings at the fast food outlets. Culver's offers a cranberry shake or malt and a pumpkin spice shake or malt AND what they call a pumpkin pecan concrete mixer -- basically a pumpkin shake with chunks of pecan mixed into it. Does anyone need these flavors?

It reminds me of a gimmick that Jones Soda started a few years ago. Now I like Jones Soda, mostly because you can send them a photograph of anything and if they like it, they will put in one one of their soda labels for a while. Makes for some interesting labels. My favorite was a bunch of plastic nun dolls.

But in 2004 they decided to do a limited edition, holiday soda that tasted like -- I am not making this up -- turkey and gravy. I am a big fan of turkey and gravy, but even so, I am not sure I want to taste that in my cold drink. That's a picture on the actual stuff. They also offered Green Bean Casserole Soda, Mashed Potato & Butter Soda, Fruitcake Soda and Cranberry Soda along with the Turkey and Gravy Soda as part of a holiday pack.

I don't know if it is still available as a seasonal product, but please don't send me any, just the same. Last Thanksgiving I made green bean casserole to take to Rich and Peggy's, and no one there had ever heard of it. (Or so they claimed. Two people were from Arkansas, and I'm sure that they knew what green bean casserole is.) Imagine if I had shown up with it in a soda bottle!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Still here, just still

Not much to report the last couple of days. I picked up a recent introductory overview of the opera at the library in Baraboo and just finished it. Not that I am ever likely to attend a live opera again, but you never know. When I was in high school I went a few times to the opera in Houston with Freddy Kramer's family. I still remember that we heard Lucia di Lammermoor and Die Meistersinger von N├╝rnberg. In the 1990's I attended two performances of The Dialogues of the Carmelites, a powerful work based on a true story of an entire convent of Discalced Carmelite nuns who died at the guillotine during the French Revolution.

Critter report: We got another mouse in a trap and when I was taking it outside a huge flock of geese was flying and honking overhead. The cats have been watching the bird feeder pretty intently and hiding (so they think) at the base. The birds scatter so much seed that it attracts field mice, and I think that is what the cats are hunting rather than the birds.

I am glad Kristin liked the photos of the house. The photographs don't do it justice, IMHO, because they make it seem more crowded than it is. I had a lot of hassle with the pictures for the first posting. The post stayed up but all the photos disappeared after a couple of days. When I went to put them back, the code for them was still there in HTML. So I don't know what is going on. They may disappear again or one day there may be duplicates. By then I guess that will be old news and we will all have moved on.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Lots of activity and variety at the bird feeders now with the change of seasons. In particular, we have seen a lot of red breasted nuthatches. Plain vanilla nuthatches are around all the time, but these lend a bit of color. At first I thought it was a faded bluebird, but the head shape was wrong. The white stripes are distinctive.

Last night on my way into town I saw three deer cross Birchwood where it intersects with Berry Road. They were heading out of the woods on our side into the Spring Brook Golf Resort across the road.

The cats were chasing a mouse around the living room last night. Today I found it caught in one of the traps over behind the bookcase in the library. The cats had managed to get behind the books and knock some of them out onto the floor, but they never got the mouse.

Today was a very autumnal day -- some patchy fog on the road for the morning commute, wind blowing leaves all around on the return home, then showers and a little thunder in the evening. By Thursday it is supposed to warm back up into the lower 80s.

Also autumnal, Rich and Peggy came by to give us some apple butter made from their own apples. Rich likes it but Peggy doesn't, so she wanted to share the wealth. In return I gave them some key lime fudge I had made. Rich liked that, too, but Peggy not so much. I was not all that satisfied with it, either. It tastes very rich, but it doesn't have much in the way of flavor. Last Christmas I made some candy for them that was a sort of marbled fudge, using white and dark chocolate, with peppermint candies broken up in it. Peggy liked that a lot, but I haven't been able to find the recipe. I still have a few months, though.

Tom meanwhile found a Great Taste, Low Fat Cookbook at Half Price Books over the weekend and has picked out some things to experiment with. Tonight he made a very tasty "Chicken Breasts with Hearty Mushroom Sauce" that was only 166 calories per serving. Company good!

Monday, October 1, 2007

The House, Part Two

This is looking towards the front door from the library. Tom did the paintings you see. That is the front (double) door back there. Tom's office is behind the wall to to the right (I don't know why he didn't take a picture of it, too.) The other door you see is to a coat closet.

This is the another angle of the picture (portrait) wall. seen in the top photo. Most of these faces are of people Tom knows or saw in Hyde Park.

The entertainment wall. Tom did the painting of the house he and Helen had in Hyde Park. There is another one that goes with it that is in the guestroom. The pottery on that high shelf is Helen's work. The television is the one the Carmelites gave me for my apartment in Chicago. It looked ginormous in that little studio, but it doesn't look so big here. That door goes into my bedroom. It looks weird becasue trough the doorframe you can see part of the door to the walk-in closet and part of the door that opens into the bathroom.

My bedroom with another of Tom's paintings. That is my desk in the foreground, also seen in the next picture. The wall is called something like Santa Fe red. It is not shiny and makes the room feel warm. The other walls in the house are not as colorful. The living/dining kitchen space is two shades of a light, creamy brown, Tom's office is yellow, his bedroom is blue and the guestroom is green.

I had seen the design for this desk/bookcase and showed it to Tom. He built it for me, just as he built the bed and much of the other furniture in the house. You can't tell probably, but it is like a stepladder leaning against the wall. You will notice the stuffed dragons here and elsewhere...

This is the bookcase along the wall between my bedroom and the living area.

That's about it. Tom didn't take a picture of the guestroom or his bedroom, both of which are at the other end of the house.

The House

Tom got batteries for his camera, but instead of getting a shot of Oprah's place, he took some pictures of the interior of our house. Here are some:

Okay, not the interior. This is the deck out back this morning after a rainy night. Tom's plan was to build a series of decks at different levels, stair-stepping down to ground level from the back of the house. After he and his son Peter did a beautiful job on this part of the project, he realized how much work was involved and things are on hold for the moment anyway. That sort of dry grassy thing you see in the back corner is a planter that Rich and Peggy gave us. The begonias, as I have mentioned before, have begone. The ornamental grass is dry, but still ornamental.

This is the view of the doors onto the deck from the living room through the library area. That sofa is made of Texas cherry (I think) and weighs a ton. It took three ingenious and strong college guys to get it out of the basement apartment and into the moving truck, and it took the substantial help of Steve Flower -- whose name gives you no idea of his size and power -- to get it into the house. There is a cedar chest serving as coffee table in front of it.

This is the dining area with the library in the back. Separating the two areas is a combination buffet (facing the dining table) and bookcase (facing the library) that Tom built. It matches the kitchen cabinets pretty well and provides lots of storage for the extra dishes and things.

The kitchen viewed from the library and across the dining table.
What more can I say?

This is the dining table. As you see behind it, the windows in the house are all large, making it very light. (Well, not on a dark, rainy morning like this.) We went shopping for the chairs over the weekend. Before all we had were four stackable conference chairs donated by the Carmelites when I moved into my apartment in Chicago. I won't go into the whole story of buying the chairs, but Tom says that I got testy. Actually, I told him that I had reached the optometrist point. When asked if this is better or this is better or what about this, I could no longer tell. He kept asking, since I was going to have to live with them, and I did become a bit cranky. (I can hear him now: "A bit?") The chairs do look good with the table, though. They don't match, but then nothing really matches around here. We are going more for a co-ordinated look, I guess. Maybe that's why that carpet works. It is not all the same colors, but they work together.

More later.