Monday, March 31, 2008

Thou shalt not snivel

1. To sniffle.
2. To complain or whine tearfully.
3. To run at the nose.

Our refrigerator door is covered with magnets. Some are funny like the picture of a shirtless old guy holding barbells that says "Growing Old Is Not for Sissies." There is a "Don't Mess with Texas" one, and a Kilbourn Public Library schedule and lots of pictures of Tom's grandchildren.

There is also the "Thou Shalt Not Snivel" message above. I have to be reminded of that from time to time. As I whine about not getting a job with better hours and better pay, I read the papers about how food stamp usage is at a record high. One of my friends volunteers at the local food pantry, and she says they are being swamped by people in need.

I am not now, nor am I ever likely to be, on food stamps or using a food pantry. I live in a comfortable home, have plenty of clothes and delightful (most of the time) human and feline companionship. I can buy the odd trinket for my room and Tom will get the odd fountain that I think is cool. The price of gasoline keeps climbing, but I have a car to put it in and can even afford the regular oil changes. Even though I lack health insurance, I can pay my medical bills out of my savings without a real pinch. I have no financial debts other than my monthly credit card bill which I am always able to pay off in its entirety.

So my nose may be runny, but I have no sniveling rights beyond that. I just need to go take an antihistamine and act like an adult.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Poor Baby!

Last night we saw that there is a cheese curd festival in Ellsworth, WI ("Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin") at the end of June. If you don't know what cheese curds are, welcome to the rest of the United States. (No, it is not cottage cheese.) As Wikipedia informs us,
Cheese curds are the fresh curds of cheddar cheese. Cheese curds are little-known in locations without cheese factories, because they should ideally be eaten within hours of manufacture. After twelve hours, even under refrigeration, they have lost much of their "fresh" characteristics, particularly the "squeak". This "squeak" has been described by the New York Times as sounding like "balloons trying to neck". After twenty-four hours, they will lose their freshness entirely.

Their flavor is mild with about the same firmness as cheese, but have a springy or rubbery texture. Fresh curds squeak against the teeth when bitten into, which some would say is their defining characteristic. Cheese curds are sometimes referred to as "Squeeky cheese."
Our friend Michelangelo is a big cheese curds fan. Whenever he comes to visit he has to rush out and get some and squeak his way through them. So I let him know about the festival and asked if he wanted to join us. Turns out he will be teaching a course on Greek drama -- in Greece, yet -- on an island, yet, in the Aegean -- at that time. Poor baby! He has to go to Greece on an all-expense paid trip and will make a couple thousand dollars for teaching a couple of hours each day for two weeks.

It that isn't bad enough, he spent Christmas break chaperoning a group of guys from St. Rita Catholic High School were he teaches -- where, you ask? Spain, I answer.

His life is so rough!

(I won't mention that he broke his foot falling on ice right before the Spain trip, but things worked out so that he was able to go and enjoy himself anyway. And I have no idea what that is perched on his head in the picture ... or why.)

Sunday Zen [Updated]

[UPDATE: Tom was able to find a picture of our fountain, so I have replaced the other photo with that and revised the text.]

We went over to Home Depot to look for something to put around the open sides of the deck to make it safe when we have visitors with small children. I always go moon over the fountains in the garden center, and today the Zen fountain that I have much admired was marked down about 75% -- the box had been opened and returned, apparently. So with some reluctance, I agreed that we should get it. It is now set up on the deck and seems to work fine. It is a squared column, topped by a round basin filled with river rocks with a large sphere out of which comes the water. It stands about three feet high and has a nice, gentle sound.

Another example of Tom's generosity. I suspect he thinks a fountain is just another thing to have to maintain. I got the "You're going to have to keep it cleaned" lecture.

So now we just have to make sure that kids on the deck don't climb up and pull it over on themselves!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Saturday shopping

It was a crisp sunny day, so we decided to go into Madison and bum around. Tom wanted to give his broken snow blower to the guys at Riverside & Great Northern Railroad because they have the shop, materials and wherewithal to repair it, and they can use it next winter to help clear the walks and things. So we went by there first to drop it off.

In Madison we went by Mad City Power Motors so Tom could pine after the Honda Ruckus, but they didn't have the sleek black one he liked and he got over it. For the time being, anyway. Then we had Chinese at the Flaming Wok before hitting Michael's and Target where he picked up shoe stretchers for some work boots he just bought.

Then over to Cost Plus World Market where I broke down and got the little Kwan Yin shrine pictured. Kwan Yin (also Quan Yin) is a Chinese Buddhist goddess who represents mercy and compassion. I had seen this little statue/shrine when we were Christmas shopping, but back then I resisted the temptation to get it. I recently saw that they were down to only a few and the price was about half of what it sells for elsewhere. So that was my treat for the day.

On the way back we stopped at Menard's and Tom got a new lawnmower. We discovered that they had pink flamingos, so he picked up another half dozen to add to the flock. They also have a couple of flamingos that light up in the dark, but he reasonably chose not to invest in one of those. I told him if Peggy asks me what he wants for his birthday, I will know what to suggest.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Heigh ho, heigh ho, it's off to work we go!

Well, I got the job at the bookstore. The pay is meager and the hours few, but at least it is a job for now. I was reluctant to take it because I will certainly take a better offer should one come along, say from the library. I start next Wednesday, but do not have to come in on Thursday. That's good because the Screnocks asked me to come in Thursday morning to do Evelyn's GAL billing and baby-sit the office while they are out.

Just how meager is the pay? Well, I looked up an inflation adjusting calculator, and I will be making only a bit more in comparable income than I earned when I started work in 1968 at Bookland. And in those heady days I worked far more hours than I will be getting here, even at the peak of the tourist season.

Of course, at Bookland I only got a 10% discount on books and this job will give me 30%. On the other hand, paperbacks that cost ninety-five cents in 1968 are selling for $9.95 today ...

Heigh ho, heigh ho
To make your troubles go
Just keep on singing
All day long, heigh ho

Heigh ho, heigh ho, heigh ho
For if you're feeling low
You positively can't go wrong
With a heigh, heigh ho

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Midweek mumbles

Not much happening at the moment. Tom got back from his trip to Chicago and the doctor had given him some super-powered antihistamines that made him spacier than usual. He cut the pill in half and that didn't work, so today he took a quarter of a dose and that seems to have done the trick without leaving him in a blur.

Yesterday I graded two papers for my distance learning students. I expect another paper this week, but actually should get two more. Because these are students who are working full time, they are often late with the work, and I am used to it.

I went into the law office today to do the billing (Phase I) and managed to get that all done. Joe asked me to come in tomorrow for a bit to type his midterm for his class. So I agreed. Friday I have a job interview at the book store in the morning and do my library work in the afternoon.

The store is part of a small chain in the midwest. It is about the size Bookland was when it was in its original location in Huntsville. I suppose the most interesting thing about it is that there is a lot of stuff on local history and so on. This is only a part time job, but I think it would be fun and it would provide me with some ready cash. Not a lot of ready cash ... When I went by the bank today to deposit my check from the law office, I noticed that my money market, that paid me better than 4% just a couple of months ago, is now paying just over 2%. Not gonna get rich on that!

Today was a warmish day, up around 50, but we are supposed to get a bit more snow tonight and tomorrow. I hope it won't amount to anything since I will be driving to Reedsburg in the AM and Baraboo in the PM.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More prayers

I guess I have hit that time of life where many of my friends are in need of prayers for their health. Joe Crawford was a student with the Carmelites in Washington, DC back in 1977 when I first went there from Dallas. He was in the process of leaving and was gone by the end of that fall semester. During that short period of time, though, we became good friends. He was transitioning out of that community, I was transitioning in, and I guess it gave us something in common. I saw him occasionally over the years -- but very rarely as time went by -- the last time being when I was in Brighton in the mid-1990's.

He has been suffering from some insidious form of cancer for some time and recently had a bone marrow transplant which seems to be doing wonders for him. Still it is quite a long haul ahead of him. He has been bedridden so long that I think he is basically going to have to learn to walk all over again.

So I ask prayers for Joe and his loved ones at this time. He is one of the brightest and funniest people I ever met.

Someday we'll all have perfect wings ...

I love this Mark Wills song. I guess the Easter angels made me think of it.

Happy Easter

It is traditional for adults who are being baptized into the Catholic Church to do so on Easter, during the Easter Vigil. Tom used to be part of the RCIA Program (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Chicago, the parish now staffed by the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance (not the same Order as the Discalced Carmelites) and the parish within which I lived from 1998 until 2006. He did some graphics for the program and made them available for other parishes, too. The above represents some of the symbols of that rite: the Easter candle, the water of baptism and the oil used for confirmation, the laying on of hands.

Our Easter morning is sunny and without more snow -- at least so far -- and Tom headed south to Chicago early. He has a regular doctor's appointment tomorrow morning, and he will visit with Rebecca, David, John and his ex-in-laws while he is there. John called yesterday. He is still trying to decide where to go to law school. He was accepted at the University of Texas among others, and that seems a logical choice for a number of reasons: it is a good law school, he has family in the Austin area including an aunt who went to law school there, and it would be a nice place to live anyway. Of course, there are other factors that matter to John -- like where his current girlfriend may go. I imagine it will be a topic of discussion while Tom is there. I think they are having dinner with the Anastaplos tonight (Helen's parents). George is the famous law professor and Sarah's family is the one with Texas roots. It should be an interesting interaction.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Great Sabbath

In the monastery, we always observed the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter as a sort of Great Sabbath, because Jesus rested in the tomb on that day after the great work of Friday. We certainly worked, though, because there was always a lot to get ready for setting the church up for Easter services that begin after dark on Saturday evening. But we tried to make it a silent and reflective day.

The Great Sabbath here in the Dells dawned bright and sunny, but it is still only about 19 degreees out. Looks like we wound up with about ten inches of snow. From the reports, I gather Holy HIll got about a foot. I don't think many people made it up that steep hill yesterday. Now they are predicting more snow showers this afternoon and overnight and into tomorrow morning. No indication that it will amount to much more accumulation, but then on Thursday they told us to expect two to four inches yesterday and we got ten. It is a thankless job being a weatherperson this time of year!

Speaking of Holy Hill, Kristin called yesterday to ask me if her memories of the church were accurate and that it is an unusually beautiful place. She thought maybe because she was so young when she saw it, her mind had exaggerated it. But, no, it is a beautiful place. In 2006 Pope John Paul II declared it a basilica, a title given only to churches of exceptional historical, architectural or artistic significance. It is unusual for that honor to be given to a church out in the country like the Hill, and when it happens, it is normally a shrine church. Because we always call it Holy Hill, you may have forgotten that the official name is the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians.

It is one of the most photographed and painted churches in America, especially popular as a backdrop for paintings of migrating birds, cardinals perched in evergreens and deer in the fields. The painting above is by Duane Geisness, a well-known wildlife artist. The title is Christmas Morning at Holy Hill, but this year it works for Easter, too.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Flagrantly stolen excerpt from Tom's family blog

Reason 201 ...

... not to buy a roadster. The ground clearance on the Miata is 4.6 inches. We've now got 5 inches of snow on the ground, which means the roadster would bottom out unless I put a plow on the front, which would kind of, uh, alter the driving experience.

I'm dreaming of a White Easter...

The snow started about three this morning. It is now 8:00 a.m. and I just measured three inches on the deck. The prediction for our area now is four to six inches by evening. Could be worse -- south of here they are expecting up to thirteen inches. Temperatures tomorrow should be up to about 38, so much will melt before a little more arrives for Easter morning. Tom has to drive to Chicago on Sunday for a doctor's appointment Monday morning.

"The best laid-plans o' mice and 'men gang aft agley," as Robert Burns so wisely said to that poor mouse whose nest was turned up by the plough.

Sundance and Cassidy look about as unhappy as that bunny.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

So, about the eggs with the cars in them

Or, In the Spring, an Old Man's Fancy Turns to Sports Cars.

For quite a while Tom has been drooling over a Pontiac Solstice at a dealership in Reedsburg. He actually makes up reasons to drive into town just so he can cruise by the lot to see if a Solstice is out where he can yearn for it. It reminds me of when I was in high school and whenever I went into Huntsville I would drive by Vickie Clark's house, even though it was on a loop and not on the road to anywhere I could possibly have been going. But you never know whether or not the Loved One might be out there to honk at, right?

Tom can certainly afford a Solstice, but he has done his research and discovered that it has room for a shaving kit and a small thermos in the trunk and gets worse mileage than his truck, has horrible reliability reviews and so on. Oh, and it costs about way more than he wants to spend on a toy. Even a bright red one. (He actually has his eye on a yellow one, but either way, every cop around will follow that car just to make sure the driver's not up to anything.)
[To be fair, the Solstice GXP, which is the one pictured, has much better reviews, but it costs even more and still will only hold that shaving kit and thermos in the trunk.]
So he has been going ga-ga over this for a while, printing out fact sheets from the internet, telling total strangers whom he bumps into in the streets how much he wants one and why it is not reasonable to spend that kind of money on a car that might not be able to make it undamaged over the bumps in our road.

When he was over at Rich and Peggy's the other day, he was floating the idea that maybe he and Rich (and maybe Tom Baker up on Christmas Mountain) should buy one of these toys together and share it. Now what could possibly go wrong with an idea like that? Have these people never watched situation comedies? Anyway, Tom may have floated the idea but Peggy got busy sinking it. She suggested that they go in on a Volkswagen Bug instead.

Clearly she did not get the point of the whole exercise. Where's the midlife crisis payback in a VW Bug? Tom is willing to think about a Miata or an MG, maybe. But a BUG?

So we happened to find a plastic egg with a VW Bug in it and another with a red sports car. And into the Flamingo Basket they went.

A tisket, a tasket

One of the flamingos came through the winter with a broken leg, so we decided to use it as the centerpiece for an Easter basket we are putting together for Rich and Peggy. There was a basket in the stuff in the basement that fit pretty well, so Tom glued the flamingo (now legless) to a bit of 2x4 and then fastened that to the basket. We got some colored grass and plastic eggs and stuff at WalMart. We filled the plastic eggs with a trail mix that included raisins and M&Ms, because Rich and Peggy are somewhat careful about diet. We also picked up a couple of chocolate bunnies -- a bunny for Rich and a bunnette for Peggy -- because they are not fanatics about their diet, and a couple of plastic eggs with model cars in them (that's a whole 'nother story.) In addition, we got a dozen real eggs to decorate. While Tom was out at one of his meetings this evening, I boiled the eggs so they would be ready to color.

Seems simple, right? The idea was to bring water to a boil, then cover the pot with the boiling water and eggs in it and turn off the heat. Let it sit for fifteen minutes or so and the eggs would be hard boiled. I have done this a zillion times without a problem.

Problem. When I went to uncover the pot, the lid had sealed itself to the pot and would not come off. Wouldn't even budge. I twisted, I pried. I ran cold water. I ran more cold water. I fumed and fussed. Finally I put it out on the deck to sit in the cold weather. It took about an hour, but eventually the differences in temperature of the water and the pot and the internal and external air pressures and whatever else reached a point that enabled me to get the lid off. Fortunately nine of the eggs were uncracked, two were slightly cracked and the third was cracked enough to prove that the eggs were sufficiently done. Nine eggs will be enough. The basket is pretty full as it is.

Nevertheless, I think I'll just let Tom take it from here.

Wild and wily wintry Wisconsin

Here on the day Spring begins, right now it is sunny and bright outside. The weather report for tonight and tomorrow, however, is another winter storm watch with two to four inches of snow accumulating. Sigh!

Tomorrow being Good Friday, there is usually a huge crowd at Holy Hill and one of the big things is to do the outdoor Stations of the Cross, a half mile trail alongside which are fourteen life-size sculptures of scenes of the trial and crucifixion. The one pictured is the final station, representing Joseph of Arimethea placing Jesus in the tomb. It is not unusual for there to be snow on the walkway, especially when Easter is this early, and the workers have to shovel snow off the whole half mile of path. With luck, though, the weather will warm up and the Easter crowds will not have trouble getting up the Hill come Sunday.

This morning we saw a coyote loping through the back yard down near the ridge. Seemed to be going nowhere in particular, but Tom noticed that the squirrels that had been digging around under the bird feeder a few moments before had all suddenly disappeared. I guess they sniffed the predator and took off for higher branches.

On the way into Reedsburg I saw a small flock of guinea hens down by The Ranch Riding Stable. Not exactly road runners for the coyote, but different enough to catch my eye. I have never noticed them there before. I don't know if they are new or if they are just roaming close to the road because that is where more of the snow is gone and they can get to the ground to peck around. I'm just proud that I could remember what they are called.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

And now a word from Sundance and Cassidy



Mama reminded me that today is the 107th anniversary of the birth of Muggie Minerva Jane Hedricks Mitchum.

Sorry, but I don't have a photo to post.

I always wondered about the name Muggie. I discovered that Queen Elizabeth I had a governess, Lady Margaret Bryan, whom she called Muggie. Lady Margaret was a distant cousin of the queen.

Not that that gives us any royal connections, I hasten to point out.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ups and downs

This evening I got this email from the editor of the Carmelite magazine in Nigeria:
Grace and Peace!
Am glad to inform you that your article -- "Poverty and Moral Uprightness ..." was approved by the editorial board of this magazine for publication in this (8th) edition. To this end, could you please forward a coloured picture of yourself to this email address for use beside your article in the magazine which is due to be out by the middle of April. Thank you and God bless.

Yours in the Lord
Ibemariae Ugwoke, ocd
Editor, FlosCarmeli
I thought about sending them the picture from 1984 that the students in Chicago called the GQ photo (because they thought it looked like a Gentlemen's Quarterly fashion shot), but I decided to send them the one here that was taken not that long ago.

Since this magazine is printed in Nigeria, I doubt that I will ever see a copy of it myself, but since I wrote about moral uprightness, I suppose I should at least be honest about what I look like today.

For Dominic

Click on the arrow to hear Pie Jesu from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem. Make sure your sound is on.

This is a Latin prayer for the dead. The words mean, "Loving Jesus, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest. Grant them eternal rest."

It is sung by opera star Carla Maffioletti and Akim Camara, a five-year-old musical prodigy from Nigeria. He is really a violinist rather than a singer, but I thought this makes a touching tribute to post for an African Carmelite who died before his time.

And again ...

Well, this time it was not an editor but another literary agent who said that "We are sorry, but we don't think we are the appropriate agents for your inquiry. Best of luck elsewhere."


Update on Brother Dominic

This morning I had this email from Steve Payne:
Dominic passed away peacefully on Monday afternoon about 5 PM Nairobi time. I was there at the bedside. Because he was on a ventilator, we wouldn't have even known except that the monitors of blood pressure, pulse, etc., dropped to zero. He just seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Tests over two days, however, had shown no activity in the brain stem, so he may have left us some time ago.Keep us in your prayers. He was proof that "the good die young."
Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Although I have seen two completely different family crests (or coats of arms) for the Dodds, I only recently ran across a crest for the Mitchums. The Dodd arms differ in that one is Welsh and the other is English. This Mitchum crest is Scottish. The Latin motto -- Favente Deo supero -- means "By God's favor I conquer."

There is an English crest as well. The design is quite similar, as you can see, but there are a couple of variants. The other one I saw had red hearts and a wavy bar, although this one has blue hearts over a straight bar. The motto (not shown in this illustration) is Animi Fortitudo, "Strength of Spirit." The name dates back to at least the time of William the Conqueror in 1066.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I like that. It reminds me of one of my favorite bumper stickers:
Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup.
Actually, since St. Patrick's Day this year falls on the Monday of Holy Week, the church does not celebrate the feast today, and as a result many places had their celebrations, parties and parades sometime this past weekend. Chicago had theirs on Saturday (the Ides of March, for you Caesar fans) and dyed the river green for no good purpose, a tradition that started in 1962. Dubbed the "Irish miracle", the dye used actually goes in the river orange, and as some say, gets a leprechaun's help to then turn into its true shade of kelly green. (I just report the news; I don't vouch for it. Orange, of course, is the Protestant color in Ireland, but I think/hope this is not a sectarian issue.) New York's parade will take place today, but the cardinal just said it is a secular event, so it doesn't matter that it happens during Holy Week when the church is NOT celebrating the feast of the saint. (I ignore the fact that the cardinal always gets hot and bothered about other things having to do with the parade when he chooses to decide that it is a religious event.)

Anyway, I trust you all wore something green for the day.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Think pink

With warmer weather, the flamingos in the back are now all out from under the snow, or at least, their heads, necks and bodies are all exposed. One has a broken leg, I guess from the weight of all the snow.

Tom keeps wanting to steal the Flamingo Motel sign and add that to the lawn decorations. I am not sure if Peggy or Debbie Kinder would be more upset. Debbie would be happy to have it gone from the Strip, but I think she might never come visit again if it were sitting in our front yard. It took Peggy a while to adjust to the fourteen pink flamingos we have, but she got into the spirit of things and for Christmas gave us one that she personally had decorated with a top hat, sunglasses and lots of beads. That one now guards the front door.

Prayer request

Today I got an email from my friend Steve Payne in Kenya. Here is part of the message:
Please pray for our philosophy student, Dominic Kithusi. He went into Mater Hospital (a kind of mid-range hospital we usually go to here) about three weeks ago complaining of headaches. They gave him an antibiotic and sent him home. The headaches got worse and they admitted him. Their tests indicated that he had meningo-encephalitis and that there was some bleeding on the brain which was causing pressure (and the headaches). They put him on steroids, expecting him to come around.

His health continued to decline.Finally we got him transferred over to Nairobi Hospital (one of the top hospitals in Nairobi) and they realized right away that he was very sick. The bleeding had continued, affecting more and more of the brain. They wondered in the infection of the meninges was tuberculosis. They moved him to intensive care, sedated him into unconsciousness, and let machines do as much work as possible, to take some of the workload off of the brain. Tests over the last week showed even more serious problems, that there were blood clots deep in the brain and that blood hadn't been flowing properly for some days. The normal treatment would have been to use anticoagulants, but that increased the danger of further bleeding, so they administered them very slowly.

He has been on a ventilator in intensive care for several days. Yesterday the doctor said that his brain appears to be shutting down, and there seems to be little hope. They will run another test tomorrow, but if things have further progressed the way they have been going, they will take him off other machines except the ventilator, and they don't expect him to last long. It has saddened us all very deeply, especially because it was so sudden and because he is one of our best and brightest. Of course, we just celebrated the anniversary of my brother John's birthday a few days ago, so I suppose I'm flashing back to that loss as well. I find myself very distracted and preoccupied, choking up at unpredictable moments (like in the middle of Mass).

I'm attaching a picture of Dominic. He was a very fine young man and the kind of vocation this region can't afford to lose.
As you can see, Dominic is a young man of college age. Please pray for him, his family and the Carmelite community at this painful time.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


When we were in the Dells this afternoon I noticed that the small bookstore is looking for someone to work part time. I got an application and will take it in next week.

I also discovered that a small writers' group meets twice a month nearby. (By which I mean that the group is small, not the writers themselves. At least, I assume they are not small. Or that you don't have to be small to join.) I belonged to such a group in Chicago, so I have contacted this one for more information. Besides getting feedback from others who are writing to help improve my writing, it is a good way to get help in the mechanics of getting published. Of course, people who belong to writers' groups can be kind of flaky ... so I'll fit right in, I know that's what you're thinking. We'll see.

Craning at the crane an picking on the pileated

On the way back from the Dells this afternoon, I saw a sand hill crane standing in the snow in a field near here. It is one of the largest birds in the world, standing about four feet high and with a wingspan of up to seven feet. The first time I saw some in someone's yard, I thought they were fake. A pair hangs out around here in the summer, especially down at the pond and across in Jerry's field. This is the closest I have been to one, and they are pretty amazing up close, with that red head.

Speaking of reheads, a pileated woodpecker (only one) was back at the bird feeder today, pecking away at the small scraps in one of the suet boxes. The other box has a big chunk, but this big bird was digging at the little stuff. Bird brains!

He finally moved around and began pecking on one side of the bigger chunk, all the while with a hairy woodpecker chipping away on the other side of the same piece. I guess they may be bird brains, but they know how to share. Something the rest of us could learn from them, I suppose.

Memory lane

Yesterday afternoon at the library I was helping process some paperbacks. I had to stamp them with the Kilbourn Public Library stamp: on the top of the book, on the title page, on page 25 and page 99, and on two other pages selected at random. On the first inside page I had to use the Due Date stamp. For the other stuff, there was a small stamp and a larger one, to be used as best fit the space.

After my supervisor explained all this, she apologized that I was probably confused. I told her when I worked in the library in junior high, I had stamped books, so I understood how to do it, but we stamped pages 19 and 39 back then.

One of the other librarians turned around and stared at me. "How can you possibly remember that?"

I told her I just wished I could remember something useful -- like what day of the week it is.
Of course, maybe she meant, at my age, how could I even remember being in junior high?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Every breath you take...

No, I am not thinking of the 80's hit song by Sting and the Police, but the latest report on air quality from the Environmental Protection Agency. Among the counties that fail to meet the new standards, surprisingly to me, is Smith County, Texas. And Collin and Denton Counties. Also Fairfield County in Connecticut -- that's Danbury, folks. Looks like you people in the Panhandle can breathe easy -- as can I here in Sauk County, Wisconsin.

One irony for Wisconsinites, though, is that Door County, one of the prime getaway spots where urban dwellers head for weekends of natural beauty with beaches and islands and parks and hiking and biking, is on the bad air quality list, too.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Iraqi archbishop

CNN has just reported that a kidnapped Chaldean archbishop in Iraq has been found murdered.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A Christian archbishop kidnapped in northern Iraq last month has been found dead, according to a Nineveh province official.

Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paul Faraj Rahho's body was found Thursday near the town of Mosul, where he and three companions were ambushed by gunmen on February 29.

The archbishop's driver and two security guards were killed during the attack. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had ordered security services to make it a priority to find and free the archbishop.

Nineveh Deputy Gov. Khasro Goran, in Mosul, told CNN that the kidnappers had been in touch with the church and the relatives and wanted to be a paid a ransom for the archbishop's release. The contacts ended a few days ago.

The apparent kidnappers had contacted relatives on Thursday and told them the body was in the eastern part of town. Relatives and authorities went to the location and found the body, which had gunshot wounds.

The kidnapping had been condemned by the Vatican, Jordan's Prince Hassan, and the United Nations, among others. The archbishop was abducted during a push by Iraqi and U.S. troops against al Qaeda in Iraq insurgents in Mosul.

Christians are a tiny fraction of Iraq's population, but insurgents have targeted their religious sites and leaders in recent years.

This is not the archbishop I know in Baghdad, Jean Sleiman. Archbishop Sleiman is the Latin Rite archbishop. Please continue to keep him in your prayers. I am not sure how long he will be able to remain in Iraq, given this situation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Gasoline is up locally almost twenty cents from a week ago, over $3.25 a gallon.

I may have to cut back on my trips to out-of-town libraries.

Fortunately the Vibe gets great mileage, but at three-bucks-plus a gallon, an unnecessary twenty-five mile trip to the library every day adds up.

Sigh! And the Reedsburg Library has free coffee for its patrons. Hmmm. Now if that were Starbucks coffee, it would be almost as expensive as gas...

In the (near) spring, a young pileated's fancy

Tom got back last night a bit before nine. This morning while on the phone with Helen, he noticed two pileated woodpeckers on a tree in the back yard. They were circling around the base of the tree and flapping at one another occasionally. I got on line and looked up "pileated woodpecker mating dance", and sure enough, I found someone from southwestern Wisconsin describing exactly what we were seeing. After a while the birds moved to the ground, and they hopped around in the snow for a while. The male would also spread his wings, puff out his chest (and I assume suck in his stomach) with his beak up in the air to demonstrate what a fine specimen he was. Later Tom noticed that another one had shown up and was pecking away at a nearby tree. Perhaps some competition for the lady's attention?

At any rate, we are always happy to see one pileated and seeing two and then three was great. Who would have thought that they would pick the middle of our backyard to flirt so outrageously? It seemed to attract the squirrels who kept running by, but the birds ignored them completely. Sundance climbed up on the kitchen cabinet and looked out the window to see what was so interesting. We didn't let the cats out, though. They can go out their own door, of course, but if we are around, they seem to think that opening the door/flap for themselves is beneath their feline dignity.

About the middle of all this activity, Evelyn called. She and Joe are leaving today for New Hampshire to see their daughter and granddaughter, and she could not get the boarding passes for the flights to print out. Since I had planned to go into Baraboo today anyway to pick up a book at the library, I went in early and took care of the boarding passes. These people really need someone working for them full time -- and not me!

Right now I am at the library where the wonders of wireless internet access make it possible for me to send this out to all of you.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Not much Monday

Really. Not. Much.

I got an email from the editor at Spiritual Life expressing interest in my article on the names of God. So I dragged that out to review-and-revise before I send it off to him later this week.

I went to the library and checked out another book on using Excel -- figure I can use some of the time I am not employed improving my skills with some of the software that I have had little experience using. I know the basic basics, but it will help in the job hunt if I have a bit more to offer.

I went to pick up a prescription at Wal-Mart and arrived five minutes after the pharmacy closed. They have apparently cut back their weekday hours. So that gives me something to look forward to tomorrow.

I put a fresh suet block out for the birds, filled the cats' bowl with food and cleaned out their litter boxes. I swept and mopped the kitchen and did a load of laundry.


Like I said, "Really. Not. Much."

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Solitary Sunday

I remembered to set the clocks last night before going to bed, and I woke up in time to make my usual Sunday morning call to Mama and Daddy. Mama asked if I were lonely, but I do enjoy occasional solitude. Give me a book and a warm house on a cold and snowy day, and I am fine.

I am hoping to finish Emily Auerbach's Searching for Jane Austen. Since we have been watching all those movies about Jane Austen novels, this provides interesting background. Unfortunately PBS is in the middle of fundraising right now and so there was no Austen movie last Sunday and there will be none tonight. One of the other channels did have the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice. I watched the beginning, but having recently seen the BBC version, I did not care for the Hollywood one as much. So I shut off the tube and picked up my book. Typical me.

We had a little snow this morning -- lovely for a while and lasting only a short while, which makes it even lovelier.

I put together some chicken mole in the crockpot. It has to cook for twelve hours, so that won't be supper. Yesterday I made some black bean and corn soup, but Peggy and Rich invited me over for supper, so I will have the soup today.

Not too exciting, huh?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

I am fortune's fool!

Okay, that's an old joke. But occasionally I get some very strange fortune cookies. The most recent:
Behind an able man there are always.
That's all -- Behind an able man there are always. Well, there was a series of lucky numbers (1,20, 32, 18, 56, 30) and an invitation to "Learn Chinese: Huan-Xin, To make Cheerful."

Or some time back: Well, why not? Admit it – you’re intrigued. That was the fortune.

That one offered as lucky numbers 7, 24, 14, 38, 26 and 2. My Chinese lesson was pe che haou – good temper.

Title of this post: See Romeo and Juliet.

Weekend warrior - not so much

Well, here it is, Saturday morning about a quarter to eight. The sun is shining and it is minus eight outside, moving towards a high of 21. After possible snow showers tomorrow, however, it is supposed to warm up a bit and we will have almost a whole week with highs above freezing and not much snow in the forecast. The patches of ice still on some area roads may disappear by next weekend.

Yesterday morning on my way into the office, I passed a guy jogging down Birchwood Road. I can understand -- that part of the road was cleared of ice and snow for the first time since mid-December, and he must have been feeling totally cooped up. I did notice that it was still only five degrees, though. Dude! Five degrees! At least he wasn't in shorts. I see kids on their way to school in the morning wearing shorts, no matter what the weather. Is it a macho thing?

Last night Tom called from Las Vegas where he, Bob and Mike were waiting for Bob's brother, David, to call so they could go out to eat. Today they are getting out of the city to visit some of the countryside. Tom says it is too cold to swim, but it was warm enough to sit in the sun by the hotel pool. They did visit the Liberace Museum, which apparently was everything one would imagine -- and MORE! Also, Bob's friend Mike is a big-shot architect out there, and one of the homes he is working on is for Siegfried and Roy. It will include a tiger compound. Okay .... Does anyone out there read the news?

My Friday was pretty unexciting. I went in to help the Screnocks in the morning and then did my library stint in the afternoon. I ran into a friend from church at McDonald's where I had stopped for a "senior coffee" before going to the office, and we had a nice visit. She is about eighty and was on her way to take communion to some shut-ins after the morning Mass at St. Joseph's in Baraboo.
Do they call it "senior coffee" because it is old coffee? Or is it SeƱor Coffee, a sort of spicy Mexican blend?
The library is a good place to catch up on local gossip. The ladies who work there seem to know everyone and people are always dropping in to talk to them at the counter where I am processing books. The local job market continues to get worse. One of the manufacturing places (there aren't many left) just laid off over a hundred workers and an additional thirty office personnel. The good news is that the tourist season is about to begin and some of these folks can get jobs in the "hospitality industry."

The bad news, of course, is that those will be minimum wage jobs with no benefits and weird hours. Typical ads are for people to work evenings and weekends, total of fifteen hours at $6.35 an hour. Before deductions.
To put that in perspective, according to an inflation calculator that I found online, the $1.00 an hour I made at Bookland in 1968 has the purchasing power of $6.19 in 2008. The $4.00 an hour I made working for the Department of Research and Development after graduating MSU in 1972 would be the equivalent of $20.54 today.
A lot of those jobs, too, are reserved for the eastern European students that the business owners import for the summer on "work-study" programs, meaning they will work for less. They are often provided housing in some of the old motels to make up for the lower wage, and they don't have families to support or anything. So it is a good deal for them, and they do get to learn English. In fact, I may wind up tutoring some of them through the library's free English tutoring program. Still, getting back to my original point, it makes the job market even tighter for the local residents who are trying to raise a family and survive here. Cost of living is certainly less here than in Chicago, but then the price of gas just went up ten cents overnight (literally) and you can't get anywhere -- like to work -- without driving twenty miles.

Meanwhile I found another potential literary agent to represent the mystery and sent off a letter to her. Almost all of the legitimate agents are either in New York or California. I would prefer to deal with someone I could visit face-to-face, and I would have thought surely there was someone in Chicago, if not in Wisconsin. There may be, but if so, they aren't members of the various national accrediting organizations, and therefore maybe a bit risky. At any rate, I'm still trying.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Two turkeysaurs were back today. They have found the huge pile of birdseed scattered under the feeder and had themselves a long breakfast before heading back into the woods. Yesterday there was a lot of activity around the feeder, lots of species but not much in the way of color. Except for the occasional spot of red on a downy woodpecker, it was all browns and grays, black and white. I did see one male cardinal a couple of days ago.

Tom took off this morning for Milwaukee to meet up with his friend Bob Mitchell for a long weekend in Las Vegas at the Orleans Hotel and Casino. Bob is the friend who had the stroke a few years ago. Although he lives alone and manages fairly well, he has difficulty with his speech and needs a companion for a trip like this.

They will be meeting up with a friend of Bob's and one of Bob's brothers. Tom is not sure what all will be involved. He doesn't drink or gamble, so he expects to spend a good part of the day wandering around or sitting with Bob by the pool. The in-house entertainment doesn't sound too exciting: Neil Sedaka or Pauly and Sammy Shore. I do know Tom insisted that they go to the Liberace Museum which is a few miles down the same street. Liberace was born in Wisconsin, and he grew up in the Carmelite's Parish of St. Florian in West Milwaukee.

The cats and I will have to manage on our own for almost a week. The good news is that we don't expect any snow while Tom is away, but he has shown me how to run the snow blower if it is needed.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I wish I wuz in the land uv Dixie

My friend Noni sent me this test to see if your accent is more Yankee or Dixie. I have seen other versions that are longer and more specific, but click on it and take the test if you want. It doesn't take long. I took it twice -- once trying to answer it the way I think I pronounced words as a kid and then the way I think I pronounce things now. As a kid I only rate 66% Dixie, and as an adult 64%. Considering all the places I have lived, listened and talked, I would have expected to be well below 50% Dixie today.

Click here to take Accent Test.

The map above shows one theory of the geographical distribution of regional accents. I notice that Texas is big enough to have three, maybe four represented: Gulf Southern (red), Southwestern (green), South Midland (purple) and North Midland (blue). When folks in Perryton wondered where Mama was from, it was because she probably spoke Gulf Southern and they spoke South Midland. Or wherever they had come from originally.

Monday, March 3, 2008


All of a sudden, since the stock market is trying to self-destruct, I am getting a half dozen emails or more every day from someone trying to scam me on some stock or other. I don't do stocks -- shoot, I can barely do banks -- so I have no idea why they are suddenly after me. Am I the only one?

I did notice that my Money Market account, which is tied to the stock market, only paid me about $65 this past month, whereas it has been earning about $110 per month in interest. This is not because it was February, either, because it pays out every thirty days regardless of the month.

Next month they may just send me a bill!


Today I got my copies of the spring issue of Spiritual Life magazine with my article: "'A Clear and Certain Plan': Reflections on a Text of Jerome Gratian of the Mother of God." I know, I know. Most of you will wait until it comes out in video.

I also got my check, for which I am grateful. I did notice that now I only get two copies, whereas I used to get five, and I am paid significantly less than I once was. I happened to pick up a book this afternoon at the library on writing for magazines, and it pointed out the following sad realities:
In the glory days of the mid-1990s, a survey found that full-time writers who worked at it at least forty hours a week averaged only $12,500 a year in income... In 2002, according to the National Writers' Union, American freelance rates had declined by more than 50 percent since the 1960s.
Yeah, that sounds about right. My first article for Spiritual Life appeared in 1978 and was about half as long as the one they just published. I was paid more in 1978 dollars than in 2008 dollars.

On the brighter side, though, the editor did send a note along saying, "I hope that you will keep Spiritual Life in mind when you are doing your writing." This is obviously a form letter, but he wrote in the margin, "Please do."

So I guess I'm not going to make a living as a writer. But maybe it will provide "walking around money."


Not long ago some evangelical Christians who are concerned about the environment did a spin-off on the WWJD fad – What Would Jesus Do? – by starting an initiative called What Would Jesus Drive? It was/is an attempt to talk about how protecting the environment is a moral issue.

Anyway, I was on my way to the library in the Dells today, and I was passed by a guy whose license plate said “Gods Son”. So the answer to the question, “What Would Jesus Drive?” seems to be a Ford.

Tom spent the last years of his working life as an IT consultant at GM headquarters in Detroit, and their motto is “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Fords.”

What can I tell you?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Soggy Sunday

Well, it has been an interesting day here in Lake Wobedelton. The temperatures surged into the upper 40s (51, according to the thermometer at the library in Reedsburg), leading to much melting of snow and icicles, dripping of rooflines and Tom's ongoing efforts to clear ice from the paths and platforms before it rains and snows and all freezes over again tonight.

Rich and Peggy, who have been having their floors redone, brought over a rug they are replacing and stayed long enough to have BLTs for lunch. I then took off for the Reedsburg Library (the only local branch with Sunday afternoon hours) and finished up my article for the Nigerian Carmelite student magazine. I emailed that off and checked out the 2008 Writer's Market: Where & How to Sell what you Write - 3,500 listings for book publishers, consumer magazines, trade journals, literary agents and more. Whew! Try saying that all in one breath!

Steve Payne told me I should submit my recently completed article on the names of God to Spiritual Life because one of the assistant editors told him they are running low on submissions. I may do that, but I do want to check out some other possibilities. Also I will look for some places to send some of my short stories.

Now it's off to Wal-Mart to pick up prescriptions and stuff. More, perhaps, anon.

PS -- Happy birthday, Sam Houston!


Last night we watched the 2003 Robert Duvall/Michael Caine movie Secondhand Lions, set in Texas. It was a gentle movie about love, fantasy and truth, abandonment, lasting values and becoming a man. It was rated PG -- and even at that edited for television -- and I think it is a movie even Mama could watch. There may have been a passing swear word, but if so it didn't register.

What did register was the number of commercials. It seemed like every ten minutes there was a five minute commercial break. Tom got several phone calls while we were watching and if a call came during a break, he could have a fairly hefty conversation without missing a single thing.

I watch enough television to know that a half hour of programming these days includes about ten minutes of ads, but I guess I am so used to watching movies on DVDs that I have become accustomed to them being different. CBS (or whoever it was) announced this as a "Special Movie Presentation." Now this was no Oscar-winner and didn't make much of a splash back when, even though Duvall and Caine are both fine actors and Haley Joel Osment was a bit of a child star at the time. I think what made it a special presentation was that they squeezed in so many commercials. To be honest, had I been watching it alone, I would have turned it off after half an hour and read a book instead.

Besides the annoying commercials, there is a scene where the characters realize that the seed they bought for their garden is all corn -- not the variety of vegetables the salesman had promised. "Corn, corn, corn -- nothing but corn," Robert Duvall says in disgust. I am afraid one might say the same about the movie, but it was sweet in its way.

Then again, so is fresh Texas corn.

And that is my Texas Independence Day salute!