Wednesday, April 30, 2008


This is one of my favorite images of St. Joseph with the child Jesus in his workshop. It was done by the late Sr. Celeste of the Reno Carmel and is just called Joseph and Son. I like the way she used the wheels Joseph has made to imply the halos.

Yesterday, May 1, Catholics kept the memory of St. Joseph precisely as a man who earned his living by the sweat of his brow, quietly and faithfully fulfilling his role in a very atypical family.

The opening prayer for Mass was:
God our Father,
creator and ruler of the universe,
in every age you call men and women
to develop and use their gifts for the good of others.
With St. Joseph as our example and guide,
help us to do the work you have asked
and come to the rewards you have promised.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
I think it is sort of sad that most people, if they think of St. Joseph at all, think that burying a statue of him is one way to sell a house. Given the housing market, I suspect the trade in plastic statues of St. Joseph may be pretty brisk.

I think some of us -- myself definitely included -- might learn something else from his example.

Helen and Buddy and Towhees

Jay is away for business and for a visit with his brother over the weekend, so Helen came down from St. Paul this afternoon with Buddy. The weather is going to be iffy while they are here, but I am sure Tom will think of things to keep them occupied. Tonight he is dragging -- I mean, taking Helen to a meeting of the Stewards, to be followed by a talk on the local flora. I was invited, but I try not to get too involved in all of Tom's projects. I decided to stay home to keep Buddy company and try to finish reading J. M. Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year. (Ted, I think you might enjoy it. At least some of it is pretty libertarian in spirit.)

Tom decided to make shish kabob to welcome the guests, using some lamb that Joe and Evelyn had given us. This meant that he had to put together the grill that he bought about a month ago. Cassidy and I helped -- me by handing him parts and stuff and Cassidy by lounging around on the deck to protect us from any predatory birds, I guess. At any rate, the grill got assembled with relatively few problems. I went off to do some banking and other errands while Tom went shopping for the rest of the kabob ingredients. They turned out great, and I expect the grill will get a good workout this summer.

While we were eating dinner, a bird new to all of us showed up at the feeder. After studying the bird guide carefully, we decided that it was an Eastern Towhee. Adults have reddish sides, a white belly and a long dark tail with white edges. Helen also convinced me that what I thought had been a purple finch was just a house finch. At least I had the consolation of reading that it is hard to distinguish them from one another.

When Peggy was here for dinner Sunday night, we saw our first hummingbird of the year. It was buzzing around the back, and so Tom went to hang the hummingbird feeder back up by the front door. Since then, of course, no sightings. We had two families fighting over that feeder last summer, so I am sure someone will find it soon enough.

How good?

During a lull in the dissertation action -- Vinko emailed that he is sending more pages soon -- I was upgrading my homepage. Google has all sorts of gadgets to add, some helpful like local weather reports and others just games and so on. In looking through the list, I saw one called Typing Test. That's it in the corner there. The blurb: Play Typing Test and see how good you can type.

Okay, maybe it is because I have been spending a lot of time helping someone get his English-language dissertation in shape, but "how good you can type"? Maybe what we really need is Grammar Test.

Vinko makes many minor errors in usage, but English, after all, is not his first language. In fact, since he is Croatian, the odds are English is his third or fourth language. Goodness knows his footnotes are in English, French, German and Italian. Since he is writing about the New Testament, huge chunks of the text are in koine Greek, which is the language in which the New Testament books as we now have them were written. (Koine Greek was the Greek spoken by the common people in everyday use. It is less formal than the so-called classical literary Greek, with simpler grammar and so on. Think of it as the way people spoke English in Shakespeare's day when they weren't on stage.)

On the other hand, for all I know the person who wrote the blurb for Google may not be a native English speaker. It is so easy to assume ...

It reminds me, too, of an argument Steve Yarbrough, Bonnie and I had many years ago when I was studying in Washington and they were doctoral students at Penn State. The topic was the correct use of hopefully. Bonnie, an English literature student, and I argued that it was an abomination for people to say hopefully when they meant I hope. For example, "Hopefully we will get there on time." Hopefully is an adverb. Proper usage would be "I looked at her hopefully." The barbaric use of the word to replace "I/we hope" is a favorite bugaboo of English usage purists. Steve agreed that hopefully is an adverb, but he contended that English is a living language. Since, therefore, hopefully is now almost universally used to mean I/we hope, that is in fact what it means. Bonnie and I were not convinced, linguistic reactionaries that we were, but I think I knew in my heart of hearts that Steve was right. Language is not controlled by the grammar books or academy -- at least not the English language -- but by the people who speak it. This means words can change meaning dramatically.

My favorite example of this is the word doubt. We all know that to doubt something means to be uncertain about it. A few centuries back, however, to doubt something meant to be apprehensive about it -- that is, "I doubt John/Joan Doe will become president" did not mean "I do not believe John/Joan Doe will become president," butrather "I am afraid that John/Joan Doe will become president." It implied the expectation that something (undesirable, perhaps) would happen, not uncertainty about it happening.

This makes reading good old books well very confusing.

If that seems too esoteric to you, think of how the meaning of the word gay has changed in such a short time. Back in the late 1970s, Sr. Josephine Koppel was visiting the monastery of Discalced Carmelite nuns in Cologne to look over the archives concerning St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) who had died at Auschwitz. Josephine was in the process of translating the autobiographical writings of the not-yet-canonized Edith. (It was her canonization I attended in Rome back in 1998.) The nuns had a lot of booklets in various langauges, all translated from a German original. The English version said that Edith "had a gay novitiate." Sr. Josephine had to inform the innocent nuns tactfully that the word no longer meant merry in ordinary English usage. They were much perplexed, but I suspect that now, some thirty years later, they know very well what the word means.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

dydd Mawrth

Oddly enough, the Welsh name for Tuesday -- dydd Mawrth -- looks more like the meaning of the name of this day than does the English. In Latin today is Martis dies, which means "Mars's Day." [Those of you with some Spanish see that it looks like martes, or mardi in French or martedi in Italian (that's for Cris).] The English name comes from the name of the Nordic god Tyr -- the god of war, and hence the equivalent of Mars.

At any rate, hope your Tuesday has not been warlike. Here in the Dells it was a pleasant, mostly sunny day. We did get some snow yesterday afternoon, but it melted almost as fast as it fell. Last night was cold -- down to 24 -- and we hope it is the last sub-freezing night for now.

Today I finished editing the pages of his dissertation that Vinko sent me last week, and I got that emailed back to him a couple of days earlier than I had expected. Of course, he still owes me ten more pages, but I think I will be able to turn that around pretty quickly. I was surprised, however, to discover that I spent almost seven hours on the 70 pages I just completed.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Snows and rumors of snows

A young couple from Minnesota who came by the railway yesterday said that when they left home (well north of Minneapolis-St. Paul) on Friday morning, it had been sunny and cool. When they called back there after getting to the Dells, they learned that the town where they lived had been hit by 15 inches of snow.

Yesterday was a nice day here, got up into the 50s, warm in the sun and there was no wind. But then ...
[Cue the theme music from Jaws.]

It got cold in the night and we got some rain but none of the predicted snow showers, at least none while either of us was awake to see it. At noon it was in the 30s but felt like 26. "They" say we have about a 50% chance of snow showers this afternoon, and even some possible accumulation on the grass. It is supposed to drop to 24 degrees tonight. I am back to sleeping under two comforters.

Now lest you Texans get too superior, guess where and when this snowy scene was photographed.

That is a picture of the entrance to President Bush's Crawford ranch from April of 2007.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday suiza

It was a cool but sunny day, and I had fun at the railway. With better weather, we had a bunch of families show up. The kids are great, so enthusiastic about the trains, and the parents seem to appreciate the casual, friendly atmosphere. It reminds me a bit of talking with the pilgrims and tourists who came to Holy Hill, and I think I am going to enjoy myself. Tom spent much of his day moving daylilies from near the tracks -- where the kids try to reach out from moving trains to grab them -- to other areas on the grounds.

This afternoon I cooked dinner. Rich is out of town (in Oklahoma, Angie, helping repair cars damaged by hailstorms), and we invited Peggy over for dinner. I had promised to make something Mexican for her some time ago, and I made enchiladas suizas: basically chicken enchiladas in a green sauce made with heavy cream. ¡Es un plato muy rico! I adapted a recipe supposedly invented at the Sanborn's Restaurant at the Casa de Aulzejos in the historic center of Mexico City. I remember learning about the Casa de Azulejos in Spanish class with Mrs. Burleson when I was in junior high, and it was a place where I regularly ate when I was spending summers in Mexico with the Carmelites.

As you can see from the photo, the exterior walls of the Casa de Azulejos are covered with tiles. The name means "House of Tiles." Originally built as a palace for the Marqués del Valle de Orizaba, the facade was covered with tiles in the 18th century. The interior is quite stunning: a Moorish patio and a mural by Orozco are just two of its special features. As I recall the story, the man who owned the mansion (which had been built in the seventeenth century with plain walls) courted a young woman whose father did not approve of him. The father thought the fellow would never amount to anything and sneered that he could not even afford decorative tiles for his house. When the Marqués came into his own, he had the house covered with tile to show that he was a success. It has been a restaurant, gift store and pharmacy since about 1920.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Saturday on the rails

This morning I went in to volunteer at the gift store at the Riverside & Great Northern Railway. I will begin working there over the Memorial Day weekend, but I am a new member and am volunteering some hours to help them out and to familiarize myself with the way things are done. Not much to learn today -- because it was a cold and windy morning, there were few visitors. At one point while I was outside explaining the hours and fees to a nice Indian woman (India-Indian, not Native American), there were snowflakes falling.

There had been forecasts of rain and snow showers this morning, but not much happened at all beyond that handful of flakes. I will be back there tomorrow, but the weather does not look much more promising, so there probably won't be much more business. This is a family and kid-oriented operation, and bad weather does not encourage people to take their kids for a ride in open train cars.

I mentioned that yesterday a tornado touched down in Wyocena, south of here. This is a picture of a guy's RV that had been flipped onto the roof of his house. Looks like a flatbed trailer here. The recreational part of the vehicle was blown away, I guess.

On the brighter side, Life Books just declared the Dells one of the top vacation spots in the world. To quote Tom's blog,
The Events [our local newspaper] reports that Life Books has just published "Dream Destinations: 100 of the World's Best Vacations", a "stunning, oversized hardcover book" which lists Wisconsin Dells among the 100 dream vacation spots in the world.

In the opinion of the editors, anyway, Wisconsin Dells is a vacation spot on the order of London, Paris, the Bosporus, Orlando, the Denali, Polynesia, Crete and 90-plus other wonders of the world.
Now I like it here, but I told Tom that if this is one of the 100 top places in the world, the world must be a whole lot less interesting than I thought.

I must admit, though, that one of the folks at the Railway today was another India-Indian who had brought his family to ride the train. They are from California now, but he told me that he was very impressed with the beauty of the Dells. Considering how blustery and cold it was, and that things are still mostly brown and gray, that says a lot. (I must also admit that he said this was probably going to the last time they came to Wisconsin. Too far to drive -- with gasoline over $3.50 a gallon.)

I hear lots of worried talk in this tourist-industry town about how fuel prices are going to affect things around here this summer. It may just mean that more Wisconsin families come, unable to travel too far to vacation elsewhere. Of course, our huge tourist population is from Illinois, and they may have to stay closer to home, too. We did have a nice young Polish couple in the store this morning. Because so many eastern European kids work here in the summers, they go home and talk about the Dells, so we get a lot of eastern Europeans through. Some are probably visiting family, of course. The local parish has a regular Mass in Polish now, as well as one in Spanish.

The Spanish I can handle, but Polish is beyond me.

Na razie!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday frights

Well, yesterday may have been Thor's day, but we got most of our thunder and lightning today. About 3:00 this morning a big blast woke me up and the power went out. The phones were also gone. The power got back on about 9:00 a.m., but the phones were not back until after 4:00 p.m. By that time, we were in the middle of more severe thunderstorms, and the telephone guy told Tom he might see us tomorrow. A tornado touched down in a town some thirty miles south, but there were no injuries despite some damage.

So the drama!

On a simpler note, I went to work in Baraboo for the morning and Debbie came over and helped Tom -- stuck at home to wait for the Verizon folks -- put in most of the pine trees. When I got back in midafternoon after my shift at the library, he had all but a few planted and was supervising the telephone repairs down at Peggy's. I started down there, but right then the next series of heavy rain came through.

I was wiped out and thought I'd take a nap, but the thunder kept rolling and roiling, so it was pretty fitful dozing.

At least we didn't get snow like parts of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lalalala, life goes on!

I put a dollar bill in one of those change machines, and nothing happened.
-- George Carlin

Late this afternoon Vinko emailed me 70 pages of his dissertation -- with a promise to send 10 more pages soon. He wants it corrected and back to him so that he can turn it in to his adviser before he leaves Rome on May 7. Yep, that's two weeks from yesterday.

I, of course, am working at the law office tomorrow morning and then at the library in the afternoon. Saturday and Sunday I will be at the railway all day. So I won't get to give any sustained time to the dissertation project until Monday. I think, though, if I can keep my calendar clear for the rest of next week, I can probably get most of it back to him by May 1. At least I am going to try.

To put it in perspective, the editing I have done for him in the past has usually meant about ten corrections per page. So this may be about 800 corrections or suggested changes. I do the corrections on a hard copy and then enter the corrections on a Word document to email back to him. Then he has to accept and use the corrections and suggestions he wants. So the two weeks we have involves significant work on both our parts.


Actually, it reminds me a lot of working for the law office ...
That holy card image is of St. Expeditus, a purely legendary Roman martyr who is supposed to be the patron saint of procrastinators. He is standing with his foot on a crow that is saying "Cras" -- Latin for "tomorrow". His feastday was April 19 -- so we are just a bit late to make the connection perfect.

Thor's day

Well, that is what Thursday means, you know -- Thor's day. Since he is the Norse god of thunder and all that, it was appropriate that we had thunderstorms in the area today. Just another of the mixed signals of spring.

Some of the signals are good. Trees are starting to leaf out, some of the flowers are starting to come up, birds are singing, days are warmer and all that great stuff. Tom spent today helping the Sauk County Land Conservation Department bag trees and prairie seed for people to pick up tomorrow for planting. He ordered about 75 trees himself. I think most of the ones he put in last year made it through the winter, and yesterday he showed me where he plans to put the pines he is getting this year.

Other signals -- like thunderstorms -- are less pleasant. For example, the wasps have begun hovering around the deck again. I went out yesterday evening and picked up a couple of neat-looking glass bee and wasp traps to hang out there. You put sugar water in them and supposedly the insects fly in and can't find their way out. We'll see. At least they are decorative.

We do want to get the wasp situation under control. Tom's foster son John Sjaastad, his wife Liz and their three small children will be staying here at the beginning of June on their way to Chicago where John's father is receiving a teaching award from the University of Chicago. (He is a world-renowned economist.) As soon as Tom learned they would be stopping here, he began to childproof the house. Apparently Elliot -- whose middle name is Odin, the chief Norse god and father of Thor, as it turns out -- is at the age where he is attracted to electrical outlets. So Tom bought some of those plastic guards and covered every outlet in the house that doesn't have something plugged into it. They work well -- it is almost impossible to get them off when I need to plug in the vacuum, for example. I figure it will take Elliot about three seconds to pry one off.

I told Tom I was going to get him one of those signs that says, "I childproofed my house, but they got in anyway."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wednesday waiting

Between the house and Birchwood Road there is a spot that is a favorite for deer crossing. Lately I have been seeing deer on the road and so I pay attention. This morning no deer were there, but apparently the wild turkeys have decided to use the same path. Two trotted across in front of me on my way to Baraboo to cover the law office for the morning while Joe was in court.

There is also road construction going on between the Dells and Baraboo on Highway 12, and today I got caught in it. I left home with more than enough to time to avoid the wildlife in the road and even to stop for a cup of coffee and to read a paper in Baraboo before hitting the office. Instead of getting to do that, I spent twenty-five minutes at a dead stop in a long line of traffic about halfway there with no possibility of turning around or getting off the road. I never did find out what happened, but I think there may have been an accident at the place where the construction is heaviest. Traffic was not flowing at all on our side and only the occasional car went by the other way, so it was not a flagger directing traffic, although there is a short strip that is now a single lane. I was getting ready to call Joe and tell him I would be late -- hurrah for cell phones! -- when the jam broke up. Now I know not to take that route in on Friday.

That earth mover is one of the characters from Thomas the Train and Friends, and his name -- ta dah! -- is Byron. The gift store at the Riverside & Great Northern is heavily into Thomas stuff and earlier in the week my volunteer hours were spent counting way more Thomas characters than I ever knew existed. They also have railroad-themed jewelry. Anyone looking for dangling earrings that look like a railroad crossing sign?


Monday, April 21, 2008

Cat's eyes

In a cat's eyes, all things belong to cats.
- English Proverb

Mama told me once that it was a good thing we had cats. I think she meant that otherwise I wouldn't have much to talk about when I call on Sundays. Well, that and snow, but snow is only in the winter and cats are year-round. At least Sundance and Cassidy are.

But even with them there is not much to tell these days. With warmer weather, now they go outside more and perch on the deck railing to scan the yard for prey. Sundance is a little curious about the fountain, now that it is installed out there, but Cassidy has chosen to ignore it. Only when it begins to attract birds is she likely to show any interest.

The main difference between the two cats -- other than the obvious fact that Cassidy is heavy and Sundance is comparatively slender -- can be seen by what they are doing right now: Sundance is asleep in the middle of my bed. Cassidy is lying stretched out in the shade of the table on the deck, sprawled out like a pig in a wallow but with her eyes fixed on the birds at the feeder.

Sundance has always been pretty affectionate, but Cassidy was more stand-offish. Lately, for reasons known to Cassidy and Bastet alone -- Bastet being the ancient Egyptian cat-goddess -- she has started showing signs of becoming a lap cat. She doesn't crawl right up on you as much as Sundance, but she likes to get up on the couch and lie against your leg or partially on it and be petted. She is more likely to do this to Tom than to me, but then she is his cat after all.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Well, Monday is San Jacinto Day for all you Texans, of course, the one hundred seventy-second anniversary of Sam Houston & Co.'s victory over the Mexican army.

And April is a big anniversary month for the Dodds, too. Besides the anniversary of Justin's birth (April 1) , he and Angie celebrate their anniversary (April 16) as do Kristin and Vince (April 20).

So happy anniversaries to all involved!

And a thank-you to Cynthia for reminding me about the wedding anniversaries. ;-)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sabbath walk

Today we went on the "400" State Trail Walk over by Reedsburg. We took the shorter route -- 6 K or about 3.6 miles, instead of the 11 k (6.6 miles). It was sponsored by the Madison Area Volkssport Association. Volkssport is a movement imported from Germany to encourage groups of people to engage in outdoor activities -- mainly walking, swimming and biking. Its German roots are obvious in the way it happens:

1) We will do this and we will have fun.
2) We will fill out forms in duplicate.
3) We will keep extensive and efficient records and award patches and other marks of accomplishment.
4) We will observe and learn about things along the way.

And you will have fun! Yes!

Actually, it was fun. The day was overcast and cool -- we had thought it might get rained out. But the trail -- part of a 22-mile state-maintained trail -- went alongside the Baraboo River for much of the way and it was interesting terrain. There is only a bit of vegetation out now, but I imagine it would be a lovely walk in the fall. Because of the river and the marshes, we figure the mosquitoes would make it unbearable in the summer.

It took a bit over an hour for a leisurely stroll. (We were constantly being overtaken and passed by more serious Volksmarchers.) I was fine during the walk, but afterwards my feet were killing me even though I had worn hiking shoes. I guess I will survive to walk again, though.

Sure hope so. I am supposed to help set up the gift store at the Riverside & Great Northern Railroad tomorrow afternoon.

BTW, Passover begins tonight at sundown.

So happy Pesach, everyone!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday fun

I went in early this morning to the law office to cover while Evelyn is out of town and Joe was in court all day. As usual, there were things that had to be done yesterday and a pile of stuff that has been sitting there untouched since I was there last. I will go in next Wednesday morning and catch up a bit. They really need to hire someone to replace me, because a couple of days a month just doesn't get it done. But I'm not the boss of them ...

Joe told me lots of people were asking about me and that I was a popular guy. That made me feel good, but not good enough to offer to go back to work there regularly.

Then I spent a couple of hours at the library. Debbie Kinder came in and we talked briefly. She and Tom had gone out along the river this morning. It is still swollen from rain and snow melt, so it was an interesting walk. Another woman who is part of the Stewards came in at the same time and said hello. And, it turns out that Tom and Chris (one of the librarians) will be judging the Stewards' art contest for schoolkids. So lots of the kinds of small town connections going on there.

To top it off, this evening we went out for dinner with Debbie, her husband Jim and her mother and had a great time. Another of the librarians has a son who bartends at the restaurant where we ate, but he wasn't on duty. Debbie kept waving at people who came in and a couple stopped at the table to chat politics briefly. As I said, small town connections.
PS -- Kristin and Vince called Thursday night. Nice to hear from them and to see that Kristin is posting on her blog again.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Big Ben

As you know from the news, Pope Benedict is in the United Sates for a visit. When I was in Rome in 1998, I was introduced to then-Cardinal Ratiznger in St. Peter's Square as he was on his way to work at the Office of the Doctrine of Faith.

Fr. Reginald Foster, a Carmelite from the Washington Province who works for the Vatican Secretary of State, was giving us a tour and pointed to an arch. He said, "It is 8:50. In ten minutes, Cardinal Ratzinger will walk through that arch and across the square on his way to work." Reginald continued explaining things, and, sure enough, at nine o'clock, the cardinal came through the arch and strode across the square. Reginald greeted him and explained who we were. We all said hello and he waved as he continued on his way.

If you look carefully at the photo, you will see that he is wearing red shoes. Of course, the pope's clothing is traditional, but these shoes are apparently made by Prada, which has earned His Holiness the irreverent nickname of "the Prada Pope."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Breaking news!

"According to the latest official figures, 43% of all statistics are totally worthless."

Just thought you'd want to know.


I mentioned that the local parish, St. Cecilia, is planning to expand their worship space. This is a rendering of the new church. Right now you basically have the middle section, between the towers and under the gabled roof. The new one will have wings on the side, tripling the seating capacity for Mass. During the winter when the numbers are down, one wing can be closed off and heated to use as a chapel that will be fine for the smaller crowds. They will actually wind up saving on heating costs.

Anyway, the anticipated cost for all this is $12,000,000 (twelve million dollars), so they have done a variety of projects to raise that cash. They are not even going to break ground until they have the money in hand -- a wise policy on their part. All last year they sold $50.00 tickets for a half million dollar raffle. Total prizes came to about a half million, the first prize being $250,000. The drawing was in March and the winner was someone who is related to someone who works with Tom over at the railroad. I haven't seen a report on the final amount raised, but apparently they cleared several million dollars. Gives you an idea of how many people come through there during tourist season.

And how many people are willing to put down fifty bucks in the hopes of getting a quarter million back.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hidden Dells

Now that the weather is changing, I have been online looking for a picture to represent the Dells in the spring. No luck so far, but I did run across this fantastic picture of a giant red shoe that sits in a field not far from where we live. About ten or twelve feet high, apparently it is a leftover from some children's park from days gone by. And the field looks about like that right now, snow melted but nothing green yet. Later in the summer, the shoe will be almost completely hidden by weeds and growth.


Sunday driving

Today we took Tom's truck -- he still hasn't bought a Miata or a Solstice -- and went down to Portage (about twenty miles southeast) because we had heard that the Wisconsin River was near flood stage there. We drove along the roads near the river, and it was way up. Not likely to do any damage to homes and things up here -- or in Portage, for that matter -- but definitely wider and faster than usual. At the dam in Wisconsin Dells they have all the gates open and the water coming through there was mighty impressive. Kind of a mini-mini-Niagara Falls.

Along the way, we saw four wild turkeys (one of them tried to run us off the road) and four deer. These were the first live deer I have seen since Spring started trying to spring. There had been enough snow last night to cover the deck again, but it was gone by noon. The temperature is supposed to get down into the 20s tonight and about freezing tomorrow night. After that I think we may be home free, at least as far as freezing weather goes.

I hope we are. Back in May 1990 (Yes, MAY) we had about nine inches of snow at Holy Hill. And that's south of us. So who knows.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sabbath sparrow

Well, we had cold rain and blustery wind for a couple of days, then snow again last night and this morning. It didn't amount to much, but the deck was white again after the rain had washed the other snow away. By early afternoon, the snow was gone from the deck, but there were occasional snow showers.

Tom went to Madison for a meeting this morning and I went into the Dells to pick up a birthday gift and card for Rich. (Happy 58th!) We went over there for cake and coffee this afternoon, just Rich, Peggy the Foster clan and us. That was a fun neighborly time.

On the way back from the Dells I saw two separate hawks with small wiggly things clutched in their claws, but there was on-coming traffic and I couldn't take my eyes off the road long enough to see if it was a mouse or what.

We have a lot of squirrel activity at the feeder right now. In fact, Rich and Peggy have stopped putting out seeds on some of theirs because of all the squirrels. This afternoon I saw a Chipping Sparrow -- another first for our records, although hardly rare. It is easy to distinguish because of the rust-colored cap and the dark eye line.

Snowgo the Possum was back recently, after a long absence. He looked so banged up when he was here in the winter that I had assumed he did not survive all the snow storms, but I guess he did. Still has a noticeable bald spot on his back, but he is not scabby anymore. Assuming it is the same Snowgo, of course.

A bit of Carmelite-related news: I heard from Fr. Anthony Morello this past week. Fr. Mary Philip Wurth, who was the other priest with us all those years at Mt. Carmel Center in Dallas, died peacefully on Easter Sunday morning. He was 82 and had been in nursing homes for the past several years. I also heard from Fr. Vinko Mamic, the Croatian Carmelite whose doctoral dissertation I have been editing. I hadn't heard from him in so long that I thought maybe he had given up, but he has just been busy teaching in Rome. So he is sending me another 50 pages to look at soon. His English is actually quite good, but it has to be good enough for publication and that takes a lot of small corrections on every page. It is about parables, and I find it interesting to read, too.

I also heard from one of the Barrington nuns that three Carmelite monasteries of nuns are in the process of closing their houses and moving into smaller places, usually moving in with other sisters who have lots of empty space. The lack of vocations is beginning to catch up seriously. Msgr. Oerhlein, the pastor here in the Dells, recently said that the diocese of Madison (that's the central part of the state -- there are about eight areas in the state that are dioceses) is down to about 45 priests from a one-time high of over 200. The Catholic population keeps growing, but with fewer priests around, that means some places are going without daily Mass and having fewer Sunday Masses. They are building a bigger church here so that they can get more people at each service. There are about 2000 members of the parish, and the church seats 400 at a time. Because of the tourists in the summer, though, there may be several thousand people at Sunday Mass. They already have Masses in the church and some in the school gym at the same time. A newspaper article quoted one of the parishioners who said that he has lived here forever but hardly recognizes anyone at Mass. The locals get swallowed up in the crowds of tourists. It reminds me a bit of the complaints of the locals who came to the Shrine at Holy Hill as their parish. On a given weekend, 80% of the people at Mass were visitors. Good for the Shrine, but it makes it hard to build a sense of parish community. There they solved it by having a separate service in another building on the property for parishioners who wanted it.

Well, this is what happens when I don't write for a couple of days. Sorry for such a long ramble.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Remember I said that I sat out on the deck eating jambalaya a few days ago?

This is a picture of the deck this morning:

We got about three inches of slushy wet stuff yesterday afternoon and overnight.

Tomorrow evening may bring thunderstorms, and there is a fair chance of more snow showers over the weekend.

On the brighter side, we saw purple finches at the feeder today, the first we have identified since we started keeping records. A pair of ducks have set up housekeeping in the standing water alongside Berry Road above the pond. Drainage is a mystery. Water stands in this ditch and a marshy area until summer drought gets to it, but it doesn't drain down into the pond well below it or down the hill on the other side. There must be an interesting layer of clay that makes that area a pond unto itself.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Well, the bird migrations have begun.

For example, the flamingos have migrated from the back yard to the front where a line of 19 now marches towards the drive. Back by the feeders I have now seen goldfinches with some of their yellow breeding plumage. The finches are around all the time, but this time of year their drab feathers disappear and they add a nice note of color. Although we have a lot of birds all the time at the feeders, during the winter there is very little color beyond the occasional cardinal and the patches of red on the heads of the various woodpeckers.

Robins are back, of course, and I have already reported on the crane, duck and hawk sightings.

Then this afternoon I went to work and it was raining. About three o'clock it turned to snow and by the time I came home (about 6:45) our yard was covered in white again.


Monday, April 7, 2008

Monday madness

This story showed up in the Baraboo News Republic this morning. And no, it's not April Fool's.

While rain and snow may not deter the postal service, wild turkeys are a bird of a different feather.

Mara Wilhite, manager of the Hilldale Station Post Office, said wild turkeys have been pestering postal delivery workers in Parkwood Hills, a neighborhood on Madison's West Side near Owen Conservation Park and home to a number of the large birds.

Between five and 10 large male turkeys, or toms — apparently a little giddy with the onset of turkey breeding season — have been bullying postal workers as they make their rounds, pecking at them and even trying to rough them up with the sharp spurs on their legs. One of the birds launched itself through the open door of a mail truck and scratched the driver.

Eric Lobner, regional wildlife program supervisor for the state Department of Natural Resources, is on the case, investigating the turkey gang.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sunday sundries

You would think the signs of spring here on Berry Road would be the usual: snow patches melting away, the brown and dry red oak leaves finally falling as new leaves push the old ones off, the forsythia starting to show hints of yellow, more kinds of birdsong in the back yard.

But two sure signs of spring to me are feline-related: 1) The cats stop using the litter boxes since they can now do their business outside; and 2) I found a mouse head in the middle of the carpet this morning. They often leave just the head or maybe a paw. Sometimes the whole mouse corpus delicti is there. Unfortunately, the mouse color is close to that of the carpet. As a result, I get to stop checking the litter boxes every morning but now must scan the floor for mouse bits and check the mouse sticky traps as well. There is usually a flurry of mouse trapping for a couple of weeks, and then the traps part settles down to nothing.

Of course, once it warms up a bit more, the cats will also bring in garden snakes and Tom will run out of the house until something is done about that. Ah, yes, it reminds me of the Sgt. Barry Sadler song from 1965: Ballad of the Green Berets:

Fighting soldiers from the sky,
Fearless men who jump and die,
Men who mean just what they say,
The brave men of the Green Beret.

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America's best.
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret.

That's Tom. His silver wings patch hangs above the desk in his office, framed along with a patch from the Canadian forces whose jump school he passed and for whom he was a liaison. We were looking through some of his pictures from Vietnam, and the one he is proudest of is of him and Martha Rae, who was a colonel in the Army Reserve. The picture was taken at a party they had in her honor when she visited the troops.

Come to think of it, maybe Tom's Vietnam experience is what made him careful of snakes. I remember hearing that when the guys went over there, they were told that Vietnam had 100 species of snakes and 99 of them were poisonous. The other one just swallowed you whole.

Other signs of spring: Tom planted some more day lilies out front and put up a couple of posts alongside the deck where he is planning to hang the old family farm bell at some point. I did some spring housecleaning, including flipping the mattress on my bed, airing out the pillows and washing the blankets and comforters and putting away the electric blanket. This confused the cats tremendously since my bed has been their daybed lately.

When I went shopping, they had fresh strawberries on sale, so I decided to make the old sponge cake with frozen strawberries and whipped cream cake. I didn't get my layers lined up perfectly, so it looked a bit lopsided. Otherwise it turned out fine and we both enjoyed it.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Springy Saturday

Today was a beautiful spring day -- sunny, breezy and in the mid-60s. Tom decided to replace the rope light he had around the deck with solar powered lights, so we went over to Home Depot and picked up a bunch. I assembled them (i.e, put batteries in them -- I know, I know, you thought they were solar powered) while he drilled holes and screwed them in place. It was so nice that I sat on the deck and had lunch, leftover jambalaya. I had found some spicy smoked andouille sausage the other day and it turned out very well. Like most spicy foods, it was even better a couple of days later.

It was nice to sit out in the warm sun, because it looks like starting tomorrow afternoon we have a pretty wet week ahead of us. At least now it is sure to be rain and that will help get rid of the remaining patches of snow on the ground. I just measured the snow pile in the shady patch in the flower bed by the front door, and it is still 16 inches deep. Of course, that is where snow was constantly being shoveled off the sidewalk and it doesn't get much sunlight yet. It should disappear fairly soon. At least, hope springs eternal.

Tom is still pining away for his little Ruckus, but between shopping and puttering around, it was too late today to go down to Richland Center and do anything about it. (The place closes at 3:00 and he wants to drive it around and try on helmets and get all the information on insurance and so on and so on.) Since we are about to have a week of crummy weather, it looks like he will have to wait at least that long before he tries again.

Since we couldn't do that, we went over to the Riverside & Great Northern to see how they were doing on the first day of operations. They were surprisingly busy and we wound up taking a ride ourselves with a nice family from Whitewater. I got volunteered to help with another project of theirs and volunteered myself to help with a membership thing Tom is taking on. At some point I think I get an engineer's cap for all this.

Then we went into the Dells to see what was going on and stopped for dinner at a place that just opened this past year. Overpriced and underimpressive was our take on it, but the waitress was very friendly and grandmotherly. Still, I don't think we'll be going back. I did notice on the way out that they have a Texas flag on their billboard, even though it is a locally created and owned place. They do have a few southwestern things on the menu and a cowboy theme of sorts, so maybe that's what the Lone Star is supposed to represent.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Freaky Friday

So today I spent over four hours at the bookstore counting bookmarks and plush animals. Among the animals was this bear named Mango. It made me think of my friends in Washington, DC who gave me so much grief over a mango t-shirt that I had back when. Whatever.

Anyway, the time went pretty fast and today there were customers in and out, which made it more fun. I did actually do more than count bookmarks and teddy bears. I got to wait on a few people and so on.

Then it was over to the library for a couple of hours of processing books for interlibrary loans and then home. Tom had spent much of his day working on the grounds over at the Riverside & Great Northern Railroad. It was a beautiful, warm spring day -- the library was practically empty because everyone was out enjoying the outdoors. One of the ladies said now she is sure spring has come. One of the others said, "Yeah, so the next snow will be a spring snow." Then there was a brief discussion about terrible April snow storms of years past.

Anyway, Tom and I were both pooped when we got home.

This being the first Friday of the month, though, we went out for a fish fry. This is a big Wisconsin tradition -- Evelyn even has a book on where the best ones are in the whole state -- and in theory we do it the first Friday of the month. But with the winter weather and one thing and another, we hadn't gotten around to it this year. So it was nice to get back into the routine. We went to Field's, which has good food and a nice ambiance. They seated us in what Tom calls the Liberace room -- all mirrors, chandeliers and red wall paper. The waitress was new and being supervised, but she did a fine job.

Then back home to collapse and get off my feet.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Thursday thoughts

1) Birds and other critters -- We have had a number of pileated sightings, including another sighting of three at once. One of them has become a regular at the bird feeder. Maybe once the weather warms up a bit more and the bugs are out, he will stay away. They are not particularly rare birds, but they are shy so we are lucky to see them so much.

On the way back from Reedsburg, I think I saw a couple of bufflehead ducks the other day. There have been lots of cranes around, too, and the red-tailed hawks are certainly surveying the areas around here.

I have yet to see a live deer, but I have noticed three dead alongside the roads. And a huge raccoon a couple of days ago.

2) Politics -- "All politics is local." Well, locally our friend Debbie Kinder was re-elected aldersperson in Wisconsin Dells. Although our mailing address is the Dells, we actually live in the Town of Delton (NOT the Village of Lake Delton, mind you), so we didn't get to vote for her. She won by only eight votes -- 69 to 61. As you can tell, this election really brought out the voters.

Our friend Tom Baker up on Christmas Mountain was elected to the Town Board for the Town of Delonna. Barb says she's not sure he's happy about it, but it will give him something else to do for a while.

The hot state contest was a supreme court election, and the advertisements on both sides were amazingly nasty. A local woman wrote to the Baraboo paper that she was so offended by the tone of the campaign that she exercised her right to write in Judge Judy. I wish I had thought of it myself.

3) Employment -- I began work yesterday at the bookstore. Orientation, really. It seems a pleasant enough place. Today I went in to the law office to do Evelyn's billing and a few odds and ends for Joe. They asked me to cover a couple of days later in the month when Joe will be in court and Evelyn will be out of town. Since I don't know my bookstore schedule yet -- one of the joys of working hourly like this is that your schedule constantly shifts from day to day and week to week -- I told them either Tom or I would do it. Fortunately he is available those days, which is a surprise given how busy his schedule is for a retired dude. Tomorrow I will put in four hours at the bookstore and a couple after that at the library.

And that's the news here in the vicinity of Lake Deltonbegon.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I may be working on the railroad ...

The Riverside & Great Northern Railroad, that is, a 15-inch gauge railroad living museum offering rides on live steam trains along a 3 mile roadbed winding through scenic canyons, beautiful wooded areas, and majestic rock cuts beside the Dells of the Wisconsin River.

When Tom was over at there today -- he does volunteer work for them -- , Dave Simerson, the General Manager, asked if he knew anyone who wanted to work part time in the gift store and snack bar this summer. So Tom had him call me up, and I may have picked up yet another part time job. I have to sort out how this will fit in with the book store, and it being a seasonal job, it will just be for the summer. The good news is that it pays more per hour than the book store, so between those two -- if the schedules can be coordinated -- and doing billing and occasional other jobs for the law office and getting paid for the distance learning classes ... well, I won't be getting rich, but I should be busy this summer, anyway.

I can hardly wait until Tom tries to do my income taxes next year with all these W-2 forms!

Click on the arrow above to see what the little railroad is about.

[And, no, this is not an April Fool's joke.]