Friday, August 29, 2008


I don't want to discourage anyone who is expecting a baby (or trying to get pregnant), but if you spent a couple of days at the railway, you might be more aware of what lies ahead.

As I have mentioned before, we have a train table in the shop for the kids to play with. Sometimes parents find it nearly inmpossible to get the kids to leave it behind, even to get on the train to take their ride. At least once a day, after trying for a long time to reason with a child or bribe him or her, parents wind up grabbing the kid around the waist and walking out in the middle of screams and tears. Recently we had a kid who cried and stood screaming outside the shop, refusing to go with his mother to get on the train with his sibs. She finally got him on, but he cried throughout the trip and until she finally brought him back into the store afterwards. Then she had to go through it all over again when they really had to leave. The last I saw (heard) him, he was still red-faced and hysterical.

He was about three or four years old.

That was probably the worst scene, but a screaming two-year-old is a many-times-daily occurrence. It is a developmental thing, apparently. There is a general consensus that the terrible twos is not a myth. The good news, as Tom told a friend some time back who was struggling with hers, is that they grow out of it. The bad news is that they go on to become surly teenagers.

It is interesting to watch parents try to reason with the children. While it is obvious that young children can be taught what they can and cannot do, it also seems to be true that until a child is six or seven, they cannot grasp clearly the meaning of right/wrong in the way adults do. As a result, a child can learn not to tear up the newspaper before daddy has read it, but the young child will not realize that there is something wrong about that. They need to grow up a bit more. I don't know what the answer is, but it has to be something else. I know from watching it day after day that the "Let's talk ethics" approach is not going to cut it with a child who can't yet say ethics without lisping.

It is a bit like people who think that speaking English loudly and slowly to a non-English speaker will make it intelligible. I mean, no matter how loudly and slowly someone spoke Chinese to me, I just wouldn't get it.

Anyway, as the Boy Scouts told you, Justin, Be Prepared.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Weather 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows

Okay, reduced to weather chat today.

Here it is, 8:30 in the A.M. and it is 54 degrees out there. We are planning to go to Madison to bum around a bit, and I guess the good news is that it is supposed to be sunny most of the day.

Tomorrow, on the other hand, we have a pretty good chance of thunderstorms throughout the day. This matters to the railway in particular, because we run through a beautiful but heavily wooded stretch of scenery. We can run in the rain -- in fact, we often do better on cool, slightly rainy days because people don't go to waterparks and are looking for something else to do. But we cannot take a train out in thunder and lightning. Back in June, the major storm that destroyed Lake Delton knocked 34 large trees down across our track. That did not real damage to the tracks, but you can't run a train over fallen trees, and you don't want a tree toppling onto a wooden car filled with little kids.

The thing is, the conductor and engineer will decide when it is safe to take the train out, and that means they will keep calling us on the radio as departure time approaches to ask what the weather radar shows on our computers in the shop. So we will spend much of the day looking at green, orange and red spots on the screen and trying to give them enough information to hazard a guess about the odds of a hazard.

We have done this quite a bit this summer, and part of the challenge is the landscape around here. The combination of the hills of the Baraboo Ridge and the Wisconsin River and the Dells makes it very common for a storm to head right for us and then split and go around on both sides, striking neighbors just a few miles away but leaving the railroad unscathed. We tend to err on the side of caution -- there is no way to just turn around and come back if a sudden storm comes up, so they have to just back the train all the way back into Hyde Park Station. But about 90% of the time lately, the radar looks threatening, we can hear distant thunder, but nothing gets to us. But it keeps us in suspense about whether to even sell tickets while we wait to see what happens.

It should be a fun day.

This is the last full week of the season, too, since schools are back in session in many surrounding states and will be open everywhere after Labor Day. So we would like to have a good last week before we shift down to the fall schedule. Incidentally, we are actually running ahead of last year's business right now, which makes us (relatively speaking) one of the most successful venues in the Dells area this year. The Mid-Continent Railroad Museum over in North Freedom, a full-size train museum and ride, was badly affected by the June floods, and they have been closed for most of the season. Three weeks ago they finally got an engine working and ran a reduced schedule for a couple of weekends, but then the engine broke down on them again and they are closed until further notice. Mid-Continent is another volunteer-run organization, and you can imagine how hard it is to keep a full-sized train going with volunteers who have limited time to devote to it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Long lost cousin?

I don't follow the Olympics, but Tom watches some events. So he came to tell me last night about the upset in the men's diving competition. Going into the final round, China's Zhou Luxin looked like a shoo-in, but he messed up his dive, and Australian Matthew Mitcham did a spectacular job on his, erasing Zhou Luxin's 30-point lead and taking home the gold.

The spelling of surnames was very flexible until fairly recently, so there is at least a good chance that Matthew Mitcham is related to the Mitchum side of the family if we look back far enough.

By the way, Michael Dodd (not me, obviously) won a silver medal for men's beach volleyball in the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Who knew?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Wonderful Wacky World of Marketing

Today while flipping through the channel guide, I saw there was an infomercial for a product that claims to give you free local and long distance dialing for $19.95 a year. So my question is, what does free mean if you have to pay $19.95 a year?

The best marketing bizarro story of the week, though, was one I saw in a consumer column for travelers. It seems this woman had made a reservation at a Florida hotel (motel, resort, whatever) and when she checked in, there was an unanticipated $50 surcharge. It was for booking a "short stay." So basically, they were charging her for not using their facilities. Apparently they do this all the time, although in this case the consumer advocate was able to get he money back for her. So if you think $19.95 is ridiculous for something that is advertised as free, how would you describe charging someone $50 for nothing at all? Will they just start mass mailing to non-customers, enclosing a bill for $50 and then setting the collection agency on them for not paying? (Read your mail carefully!)

This hotel thing, of course, was just poor marketing. If they had advertised openly that they give people who stay longer a break on the price, that would seem okay -- a reward for people who help them stay booked solid. It was passing it off as a surcharge (and an apparently unadvertised one!) for a short stay that makes it look absurd.

At the shop, we have a Thomas the Tank Engine Train Table for the kids to play with. Many people ask about buying them, and although we don't stock them, we do have information for those who want to get one. I learned from someone who had ordered one, however, to warn people that what the catalogs call a train table not only does not have any of the set-up (tracks, bridges, etc.) but it sometimes does not even have a top. If you order the train table, all you get may be the base and the top frame -- which will be empty. So what they are calling a train table has no table top -- which would seem to me to be part of the definition of a table.

So choose wisely, folks. Read the labels, and don't assume ANYTHING.

PS -- The very term infomercial is an excellent example of marketing. While we complain about fifteen-second advertisements, we sit through half hour infomercials as if they were entertainment. Now I will grant you, the plot and production values may be better than lots of other things on television ...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Insure an' begorrah!

I had a very helpful meeting with the WPS insurance lady this morning before work. WPS is the only non-profit health insurance provider in the state, founded in the 1940s by the medical community to help Wisconsin residents budget for health care costs.

It looks like adequate coverage is well within my reach, assuming the underwriters don't refuse to insure me. My doctor and the local medical services are all within the network, too, something that was not the case for some of the other plans I examined. I explained my medical history, she looked at the meds I take and so on, and she thought there was a reasonable chance I would be approved. She also clarified some things that were not mentioned in the literature they had provided, and that was a big help.

Of course, I am in the process of applying for two jobs, both of which offer health benefits, so there is no need to rush in and sign anything. Because of the timing on WPS policies, I have until September 25 anyway to send in my application to be insured beginning October 1. In the meantime, I will try to stay healthy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Visiting, writing and tires

Today I went into Milwaukee to meet with John Sullivan, who is now provincial of the OCD friars. John was provincial before, when I was prior of Holy Hill. This was to discuss how to move the formal process of my leaving the Carmelites along. (Long story, not all that interesting, doesn't have any practical significance at the moment. Moving on ...)

Then we stopped at Holy Hill on the way back to the Dells so that I could pick up some material from Fr. Jude to help me in writing the history of the Shrine that I have agreed to do for them. It is not a huge project -- a book of only 64 pages, most likely. It will, however, have my name on it, so I will finally be able to say I have a book published.

Meanwhile I plod along on my little book on Elijah and the ravens of Carith.

Tom had agreed to go with me on this trip, and it was a good thing. When he went into the garage this morning, one tire on the Vibe looked low. So he checked, and it had only about seven pounds of pressure. Two tires had 25 and only one had the recommended 32. So he hooked the pump up and corrected all that, but we decided it was better to take the truck than to risk getting halfway to Milwaukee only to discover that a tire was going flat on us. If I had headed out alone this morning, no telling what would have happened -- but it probably would not have been good.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pileated and pink yet again

The pileated woodpeckers have been showing up with some regularity, which is pretty good because most of our guests have never seen one. When we can point to two of them on the same tree, it makes our place seem a bit more exotic.

That plus the 31 flamingos now flanking the drive in two groups, of course.

The flamingos had been down in the back, looming out like an ominous avian invasion for the sake of Chris and Linda's visit way back when. When John was giving Rose directions on how to get here, we suggested he tell her to look for the house with the flamingos, and Tom went to move a dozen out by the entrance to the drive where they would be easily seen. Then he set the remaining 19 up in a line emerging out of the shade of the opposite side of the drive near the house.

I was off from work today, and this morning I finished grading a paper from a student in Australia, did dishes and laundry, mopped the kitchen floor -- which was a huge mess -- , washed the car (almost as big a mess as the kitchen floor), picked up the audio version of Running with Scissors (another Augusten Burroughs book) at the library and wrote some more on my own latest attempt at a book. I am up to about 30 pages. That may not sound like much, but it consists of the opening pages of every chapter except the final one, and it is coming along.

Laura, the librarian who supervises the volunteers, checked out the Burroughs book for me and mentioned how interesting it was. I told her I had recently listened to Dry and thought I would check out this one, the story of his childhood. His childhood was quite bizarre -- this book was made into a movie -- with an alcoholic father and a poet-mother who gave him away to her therapist when he was twelve years old. Burroughs (that's him as an adult in the photo) had dropped out of school, or rather just refused to go (imitating his older brother, apparently, who pulled the same stunt) and his mother didn't know how to deal with him. So she just gave him to the shrink. The story does not get any more normal after that, apparently. Laura told me to fast forward through it if it got to be too much.

The family of the psychiatrist sued him over the book, which he called a memoir, claiming that he had made up many of the wilder episodes and slandered them. Although Burroughs insisted that the book was completely true and accurate, he did agree to modify some introductory remarks and to refer to it in the future as a "book" and not a memoir. It is still called a memoir on the cover and title page, however. I understand some money also changed hands, as is usual in these situations.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

261 and then some

I am taking the lazy way to blog again by stealing something from Tom's post. He worked security the last couple of days for this enormous steam engine that was in town. I'll let him describe it for you:

261 at Union Station in Chicago

The 261 Northern is enormous and breathtaking, as I discovered today, twice, as the train rumbled by a few feet away while I was keeping the crowds at a safe distance.

My guess is that the 261 is 70 or so feet in length and at least 18 feet tall, longer than my house and about as tall. The drivers, for sure, are taller than I am -- 74" for the drivers, 72" for me. The 261 weighs 260,000 pounds, or 130 tons.

I had no idea.

My grandfather was a railroad steam engineer, who later ran the station in Madelia, Minnesota. He was retired when I knew him, but he lived alongside the tracks, because railroading was his life.

I don't know how he felt about working on such engines. Human beings are dwarfed by locomotives of that size.

Standing two or three feet away from the behemoth, though, I was reminded of another behemoth.

I jumped a C-5A once, when I was in the Army. I remember standing in a huge cavern of an airplane, feeling very, very small.

Experiencing the 261 was like that ...
The 261 is often used in movies these days, and it was filmed near our railway back in the late spring for scenes to be part of an uncoming Johnny Depp flick. While it was visiting the Dells area, I saw it pass our place, just a matter of a few yards from the shop, several times. I am not the train freak that most of the people out there are, but it was an impressive sight nonetheless.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Brown out

After making a stunning show for the past few weeks, the blackeyed Susan are starting to turn brown. I can't tell what if anything is going to come in to replace them in the garden outside my windows. In the front, there are some purple cone flowers, also known as echinacea, filling in some gaps, and a scattering of cosmos by the garage. Day lilies continue to bloom like recovering alcoholics (one day at a time), but they are starting to look straggly. Fortunately some spikes of red gladiolas are helping out.

On the fauna front, we have caught about a half dozen mice in the traps this week and found a half-eaten one on the library rug. The cats also brought in a goldfinch and dropped it under the table. I picked it up in a paper towel to dispose of outside, but when I unrolled it, the bird flew away. A few minutes later Helen saw a green snake, another feline gift, making its way towards Tom's end of the dining room table. I got it scooped up and out the front door, and it too went its way.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Brrr ... relatively speaking

I have been waking up chilled the last few days. Now that the nights are cooler, Tom opens the windows in the middle of the house, and the outside air brings the temperatures down. We are having lows in the upper 50's, so you can imagine. Not exactly Texas weather.

On the other hand, in 1964 it hit 38 degrees here, so I should be happy with what I have. At least there's no snow in the forecast!

Helen and Buddy the Dog headed north to St. Paul this morning. John's girlfriend, Rose, is due today. She will stay a few days and then give him a ride back to Chicago. Rose is a vegetarian, so Tom is trying to figure out what to cook. Planning meals for guests is one of his favorite things. Fortunately, I will be at the railway all day and can just leave it to him.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Small world, small Texans and small dragons

Today while Tom and Helen were helping John set up his bank account before he leaves for Austin and law school, I went into a little shop across from the bank that I knew had small stuffed dragons. While I was looking at them, two small girls -- granddaughters of the owner -- decided to explain all about the dragons to me and help me select the proper one to add to my collection.

Although they came in various sizes (I got the smallest, least expensive one, of course), there were basically three designs. The dragons look pretty much the same except for the color (pink, blue and green) and the shape of the tail. Here they are.

This is a girl dragon, I was told, and I assumed this is because she is pink. However, this green one

is a boy dragon. Finally, the blue dragon
is a boy-girl dragon.

They girls assured me that the way you could tell was not the color of the dragon, but the shape of the tail. The plain tail is a sign of a girl, the forked tail is a boy and the heart-shaped tail is a boy-girl. Neither one seemed the least bit surprised that there should be such a thing as a boy-girl dragon nor that the color blue, normally reserved for boys, should have had nothing to do with dragons at all. Their grandmother just shrugged her shoulders and said, "Well, now we know about dragon genders."

I was wearing my Texas Law t-shirt in John's honor, and the older girl (maybe eight) was visiting from Texas, as it turns out, from Austin in particular. Her mother, who was listening in from the other room, is the person who designs the ongoing legal education program for the State Bar of Texas. Tom came in to get me and so we had a lawyer, who lives in Wisconsin Dells and is sending his son, who lives in Illinois, off to law school in Austin, Texas, running into a lawyer from Austin, Texas in a dragon shop in Baraboo.

While the two lawyers chatted, I bought my dragon and asked my little friend to say hello to Texas for me when she gets home.

It's a small world after all.

PS -- The dragons were 30% off, too. Great day!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Exercise is for the dogs

Tom had to go to the railway early this morning because of his conductoring duties. (The conductor has all sorts of preparatory tasks, including getting the public restrooms cleaned up and ready for another day.) So it was my duty to take Buddy the Dog for a w-a-l-k. We have to spell in front of the d-o-g, of course.

Buddy is an urban dog, and although he goes outside to wander around the yard, this does not count as exercise. Exercise consists of going for a walk while wearing a leash and dragging some human along. I think the sharp rocks in our drive hurt his feet, because he is a bit reluctant to leave the concrete apron outside the garage. Once we make it to the paved road, though, he is happier. There are strange smells to be smelled, trails to be traced, canine calling cards to read and respond to, noises to be noticed and so on. He is actually pretty well behaved, and he is satisfied with a short walk in the morning. Later in the day he will expect an extended tour of Berry Road and environs.


Helen drove John down today and will stay for a couple of days before she heads back to St. Paul. They brought Buddy the Dog with them, so we are back to three animals and four adults in the house. John is making his way towards Austin where he will begin law school at the University of Texas in the fall. The Screnocks recently gave us some lamb from their farm, and Tom made great shish kabobs on the grill. Lovely meal!

Meanwhile, I got a 30% off coupon from Kohl's, so we will probably take John over and get some clothes for him. He was talking about getting shorts, but his parents are insisting that regular pants are more appropriate. We'll see.

Since Helen was not feeling well, she went to bed early and closed the door to shut out the noise from the Olympics on television. Tom bedded down in his office, and John shut his door, too, once he retired for the night. This left Buddy the Dog frustrated, and he wandered into and out of my room all night long. Sundance was also confused by the doors being closed and people sleeping in the wrong place -- the wrong place being any place other than the one she is used to. So she was also crawling all over me last night. I did manage to get some sleep, but it was not a quiet night.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Never too young to volunteer

I know I must make it sound like everyone at the railway is a retiree or geezer, but that is not the case. There are younger folks around, including married couples with children. John and Judi Dauphin from Illinois come up almost every weekend to work. They do all sorts of heavy duty stuff around the place, and they both are qualified to engineer the trains and act as conductor. Judi serves as engineer for the diesel and John does both diesel and steam.

Their son Matt, age 8 and 11/12 (his birthday is in early September), also helps out around the place. He does just about anything he is asked to do, and he helps out in the gift shop by cleaning up, keeping an eye on the weather, monitoring the lights that are always burning out, restocking items and making sure we are doing the sales right on the new POS. Other days he runs errands for Dave, but mostly he hangs out with Eric Taylor, doing whatever Eric is about. Lately that has meant splitting logs from some of the trees that came down in the storm. The wood is sold for firewood to bring in a little extra cash. In Wisconsin, campers have to buy firewood locally, because it you bring it from home, you may inadvertently be transporting harmful insects or other invasive species. Eric, by the way, is the son of volunteers Don and Karen Taylor. He is in his early twenties, which makes him seem pretty young to those of us who are geezers at the R&GN.

I am not sure if Matt is our youngest volunteer, but I think so. We have to be careful about what he does, in fact, because he would do just about anything and we could (seriously) get in trouble for violating child labor laws.

He heads back to school in another week, but he will continue coming up with his folks on weekends as long as weather permits us to keep going. He's a good example that it is never too soon to start volunteering for something worthwhile.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The American Birds

Yesterday an eagle was sighted flying over the railway. We run along the Wisconsin River, and eagles are not all that unusual. But I still get excited when I see one.

Then on the way to work this morning, I saw a wild turkey by the side of the road. When I got closer, I saw that there were five of them -- two adults and three poults.

You may recall that during the debate over what what bird would be the national symbol of the United States, Benjamin Franklin argued -- perhaps tongue in cheek -- for the turkey. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to his daughter after he saw the Great Seal, which featured a poorly-drawn (in Franklin's opinion) bald eagle:

"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

"With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country . . .

"I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

Eagles, of course, had been used already by many nations, but the eagle always looks so much more majestic while the turkey looks like ... well, a turkey.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Okay, all you folks with bigfoot email addresses -- all of my messages to you are being bounced back as undeliverable. Does anyone have any idea what the problem is? I have not run into this in the past, although nothing I send to my friend Michelangelo from my yahoo account gets to him, and he does not have a bigfoot account. I receive mail from him in my yahoo mailbox, and I can send mail to him from my hotmail mailbox.

Any ideas?

Otherwise, send me alternative email addresses if you want to hear directly from me.

And on a more literary note, I got some more writing done on the book today. I now have a preface and the beginning written for each of the first three of a projected nine chapters. Don't worry. If it gets published, I promise they won't be long chapters so you won't have to read that much.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bye-bye, Buddy! Hello, ravens!

Tom had to go to work today, and I wasn't sure when Jay and Helen would arrive to get Buddy the Dog. We learned last night that John was going to come with them for a visit in Minnesota before heading off to start law school in Austin.

I put on some soup and picked up sandwich makings in case they were here for lunch, but Helen called a bit before ten to say they had just made it into Chicago and would probably be here mid-afternoon.

While waiting on them, I decided to start work again on a book idea I had been bouncing around last year. It is a reflection on the story of the prophet Elijah being fed by the ravens during a drought. (This is an important symbolic story for Carmelites, and I am using it as a springboard for thoughts on spiritual dryness and so on.) It is a warm, sunny day and I thought I would take my laptop out onto the deck and write there. When I opened the door to step outside, two pileated woodpeckers flew out of the poplar just a little beyond the end of the deck. I hadn't seen them in quite a while, and I thought it was a good sign to see large black birds, even if they are not ravens. On the other hand, it turned out to be impossible to view my screen outdoors, no matter how I turned it. So back into the house.

I did do some work, though. I filled out the outline and got the preface written. Well-begun, as they say...

I don't remember if I told you that Spiritual Life magazine is going to publish another article I sent them, the one on the names we give to God. (I probably did tell you. I suspect it won't be out until sometime in 2009.)

Also, I have updated the link to Kristin and Vince over in the sidebar. Click on it now and you will go to their new site.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Moist Monday

A little before four a.m. a strong thunderstorm came through, and we had constant lightning and rolling thunder for about an hour. Fortunately we had no loss of power, but it did pretty well mean no more sleep for me. We needed a bit of rain, though, so I was grateful for that.

When the weather is rainy or threatening, some of the waterparks don't even open. So that means people are looking for alternative activities. Rain itself is not a big problem for us, and as a result, our morning trains were quite full. But around noon another severe thunderstorm system moved through the area. Since our route is through a heavily wooded scenic area, we cannot run the trains when there is a danger of lightning strikes or high winds bringing trees down. So things screeched to a halt after the noon train. I piddled around doing stuff for a while, and then decided there was no reason for them to pay me to do nothing. I left a little before three to pick up some stuff to make dinner -- chicken taquitos -- and headed for home. They were able to do a bit of business after I left, but they didn't need me. Tom was conductoring for most of the day because our regular conductor, Jack Fleming, was out sick. That meant Tom had to stay until the final train ran at five o'clock.

I worked today so that I could be home tomorrow. Tom usually conductors on Tuesday, and Helen and Jay are due to pick up Buddy the Dog at some point tomorrow. So I will tend the home fires and the pets while Tom again regales the riders.

Peggy went to spend some time with Rich, who is working in Canada. Her brother is housesitting for her and tending the dogs, but due to a recent accident cannot drive. Rich and he were unable to get his internet connection working, so now Tom may go over to try to get that hooked up tonight. My part of helping out consists of checking on their mailbox in Baraboo every Wednesday when I normally go over there anyway. I will give it to Butch (the brother) to forward on with anything that has come to the house.

So goes life in The Waterpark Capital of the World!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

On the prayer front

As long as I am asking for prayers ...

Please continue to keep Karl's mom in your prayers. She is now at home, but they are still sorting out what to do about their situation.

I haven't heard anything lately about James, but I assume things are going well there?

The elderly Florida couple who spend most of their day with me in the gift shop both have health problems. Alice is exhibiting signs of early Alzheimer's or dementia, which adds to Bill's concerns. He just went to an orthopedic surgeon this past week and learned that the reason he has been having trouble with his right ankle is that the joint has completely deteriorated and now the bones must be fused. He is less worried about walking -- he already has to limp around or use a motorized chair -- than he is that it may mean he will no longer be able to drive. They are already planning to sell their home when they get back and move into a retirement home nearby. Bill told me they do not expect to ever return to Wisconsin. They have been active volunteers -- he is a past president of the Preservation Society -- almost from the beginning in 1990 or so.

Meanwhile, the folks who lost their homes in the Lake Delton disaster are still waiting to find out what will happen to them. There are a number of fund-raisers going on in the area for their benefit.

My friend, the archbishop of Baghdad, and his people are obviously still suffering greatly. So many Christians have fled Iraq that it is uncertain whether the churches there will recover even after the war is over. The Roman Catholic population has always been small, most Christians being Chaldean Rite -- in communion with Rome, accepting the pope but with their own way of celebrating worship and with their own bishops and so on. Whenever you see anything in the news about an Iraqi archbishop, it is almost never about my friend Archbishop Sleiman (the Latin Rite archbishop), but about one of the Chaldean bishops. Jean Sleiman is probably safer from violence since he is not so prominent. Most of the violence suffered by Christian clergy has been suffered by the Chaldeans.

And on and on and on, of course.

Mouse wars

Actually, the cats and the humans seem to be winning the most recent round of the mouse wars. This morning I found two mice in one of the traps, and I found a mouse tail -- all that remained of a victim of one of the cats.

I'm not sure why we suddenly are having mice in the house again. At least it is not snakes or bats or ...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Wrap up

Well, not much to tell from the last few days. Thursday and Friday were very busy at the railway, but today (Saturday) was quiet by comparison. The big excitement was the arrival of an advance copy of the new issue of Live Steam magazine which features the Riverside & Great Northern on the cover with a photo-packed article inside. (Rush right out to your nearest newsstand for your copy! On sale in another week or so!)

I finally finished listening to the Augusten Burroughs memoir, Dry, and it was quite involving. I gather from an author's note that I found quoted in an article elsewhere (not included anywhere on the audio edition, either in print or on the CDs) that he did say that he had made up names and so on, conflated incidents and modified details to preserve anonymity. The story includes a prolonged and brutal relapse, so be prepared for that if you decide to give it a try. I am happy to say he survives and does return to sobriety by the end.

Now I will try to listen to the talks on economics. I doubt they will be as gripping, but maybe I will learn something useful.

Splitting hairs

Bill and Alice are a retired couple from Florida (no, they actually lived there before they retired) who come up every summer and volunteer time at the railway for about two months. They spend a lot of time in the gift shop with me.

Yesterday Bill mentioned how shocked he was to go into a barber shop and see that a haircut is $15. I pointed out that the Cost Cutters at Wal-Mart charges $14.95 -- and that is for a plain haircut. Shoot up to a "style" and you are going to pay at least eighteen plus tip.

To put that into some perspective, most of the people working the seasonal tourist industry jobs in this town are making seven-fifty an hour or less -- the minimum wage that many are getting is only about $6.50. So a haircut at Wal-Mart costs them between two and three hours of pay. Oh, and seasonal jobs means that they are working these jobs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Come the end of the first week in September and many of them will not even have that going for them.

The vast majority of jobs here are part time. There are a number of reasons for that, but one is that it means employers do not have to provide benefits. In fact, if they divide the shifts right, they don't even have to give people a fifteen minute coffee break or lunch (half) hour, much less any health insurance or paid vacation. People wind up trying to juggle two or three part time jobs. They are probably lucky to find the time to get a haircut, even if they dig up the cash. And without health insurance, the can't afford to go to the doctor even if they can get the time off to do it.

Gasoline prices, as you know, have been dropping lately, and that is a blessing. Food prices, on the other hand, have not been going down, nor much of anything else.

A recent study showed that the average Social Security payment for an individual in Sauk County is about $12,000 a year. (This is low for Wisconsin, which is also low for the nation.) Actual cost for a retired individual to live in Sauk County [small apartment, food, clothing, medical] is $19,000. Around here, apparently, we still have folks eating cat food and skipping some of their prescriptions.

And this economic problem has nothing to do with what happened to Lake Delton. The damage to the tourist season matters, of course, because lots of people find themselves without even those minimum wages this summer.

It could be a cold, hard winter.

BTW, Tom cuts my hair and I don't even have to tip him.


This is just a quick request for prayers for the mother of my friend Karl. She began to bleed internally a couple of nights ago and lost about a third of her blood before the doctors were able to stop it. Now the hospital wants to send her home even though she has not had a blood transfusion to replace the blood, is so weak she can hardly stand and her family probably cannot provide much care due to other serious health problems there. He says it feels like living in the 1880's: Ma and Pa have typhoid and who's going to run the ranch and pay off the bank?

Thanks for the prayers.