Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tracks in the snow

The weather reports have been wildly inconsistent for today -- from just a trace to an out-there doomsayer who told us we would get up to ten inches.

Well, nothing was on the ground when I woke up, but just about the time I got the store ready and opened, the white stuff starting coming down. We ran three trains -- maybe a total of twelve passengers, most at no charge. The kids came in and saw Santa, a few parents bought some gifts, I had several conversations with Dads about how to get a Thomas the Tank Engine train table without going bankrupt. The snow kept coming, and by 1:00 it was all over really.

Tom took off for home to try to catch Helen and Jay when they stopped to pick up Buddy the Dog on the way back to St. Paul. (He missed them by about ten minutes, judging from a note Helen left behind.) The Dauphins and Taylors took off through the snow for their homes in Illinois, and Santa ordered pizza for those of us left behind -- Santa, me and the engineer and conductor (Jim and Steve) who were still holding the snow-covered fort. By the time the pizzas arrived at 1:45, (the pizza dude had erroneously delivered them to Dave's house instead of the railway) we had two inches of snow on the ground. I realize in East Texas this would shut the world down, but up here it is not impressive. On the other hand, with people heading home after the holiday weekend, the heavy traffic was made worse by the weather. At 2:30 we closed up shop and all went home.

Next weekend will be the last for the railroad this year, and the predictions are not promising for weather. At this point they are saying next Sunday may bring us a high of 20. I'm figuring even Wisconsin parents won't drag their kids out in that weather for a half-hour ride in a train that is not fully enclosed. But who knows? Some of them showed up with toddlers today with snow falling fairly heavily at times.

And some folks may still come out for their last chance to pick up that train-themed Christmas gift.

Anybody need an engineer's cap?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Santa at the R&GN

santa train

Friday Santa arrived about noon at the railroad, and we had a good day with kids and families. The weather was sunny and cool -- in the forties. This was a vast improvement over last year when cold weather kept people away. Today (Saturday) is supposed to be another nice day with a high near 50, so I expect to be busy. Parents and grandparents are on hand shopping for Christmas, and business in the store is brisk. Tomorrow, on the other hand, is supposed to bring snow, and of course people who were here for the long holiday weekend will be heading home.

Last night we watched The Polar Express, which deserves to become a new Christmas season tradition. If you haven't seen it and get a chance, do so. The fact that is is about a train trip had nothing to do with our interest. Or the fact that we sell the very popular book at the store.

It is a sweet, beautifully animated movie about a little boy who has just reached the age to doubt Santa. It is quite predictable -- Tom accused me of having seen it already because I kept telling him what was going to happen next -- but then, Christmas movies are all pretty predictable. Even what Tom calls his Hanukkah movie is predictable.

Tom's Hanukkah movie is Full Court Miracle, a 2003 made-for-TV Disney production based loosely (no miracle in the real events) on a true story about a disgraced professional basketball player who turns his life around when he gets involved coaching a basketball team composed of kids from a local yeshiva. Naturally at the tensest moment of the crucial game with their rivals, the power fails with our heroes losing.

But wait! There is a back-up generator? Will this make it possible for our kids to pull off the big upset? The supportive rabbi's hopes begin to rise.

Oh, no! There isn't quite enough fuel to keep the lights on long enough. So close and yet so far!

But wait again! Can that sudden thunder storm that caused the blackout also portend divine intervention?

What do you think?

See? Even Hanukkah movies are predictable. (But it helps if you know the Hanukkah story.)

Speaking of Hanukkah (begins at sunset December 21 this year), we won't have Rebecca and David here over the holidays. They will be in Israel, visiting David's brother as well as friends from the days when they lived there. Peter will also not be here because he cannot get enough time off from work to make the trip here and back. So this year there will be enough rooms for everyone, and Tom and I won't need to stay over at the EconoLodge. (I'll miss the pool and jacuzzi, though.) Cooking will be simpler, too, because we won't have to make sure that there is enough kosher stuff. Becca and David are very good about bringing kosher items when they come, and we have plates and cooking utensils for them. They take care of themselves normally, but for the holidays, you want people to be sharing the meal as much as possible.

But even though it may be easier and less crowded, I will miss the full house effect of the past couple of years. Of course, who knows if Lucy will bring a new boyfriend or John a new girl. The only sure thing is that we will have Helen, Jay and Buddy the Dog. So stay tuned for late-breaking developments.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Gobbler

Our friend Karl (down in Katy) reminded me today that when he visited a couple of years ago, I pointed out a Wisconsin landmark of sorts -- The Gobbler, a restaurant/motel of amazing appearance between Milwaukee and Madison. I never had reason to stay there, but I ate there a few times. No, it was not all turkeys on the menu, but it had a rotating circular bar in the middle of the room -- with purple shag carpet on the walls. And the carpet in the lobby had a repeating design of turkeys on a purple ground. I won't even talk about the wallpaper in the restroom...

The Gobbler went out of business some time ago, but it is memorialized on this web page. Please visit it this Thanksgiving season to enjoy a piece of Wisconsin history. There are lots of pictures to prove I am not making this up.

And a special Thanksgiving Day thanks to Karl for the treat!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Snow and Santa

About three this morning, Sundance crawled into bed with me with cold paws and a wet back. I figured this meant snow, and sure enough, we woke to about two inches of the white stuff on the ground this morning. Tom headed over to plow the railway with Dave before going around town distributing posters for the Holiday Train (mentioned in an earlier post, the one that is a fundraiser for the food pantries.) As it turned out, the batteries were dead and needed to charge overnight, so the rails did not get plowed. Fortunately they discovered this today, rather than Friday morning when people start arriving for Santa Claus. The temperature is supposed to get above freezing today and most of the week, so it is already melting anyaway. Still, a sign of things to come ...

This weekend the R&GN has its Santa Train. Weather permitting, we will also be open the first weekend in December, but that is it for 2008. That's our head of operations, Dave Simerson, as the Jolly Old Elf himself in the photo. The lady on his right is Karen Taylor, a board member and one of the most active volunteers. I am not sure who the young helper is on his left.

I read that Germany is experiencing a shortage of Santas. It seems that you can pull in about $75 an hour as a Santa, so I would think people would be lining up for it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pilgrims, Plymouth and pilsner

We all have these schoolday images of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock (which, if you have ever seen it, is pretty small) because they believed they had found the promised land where they could freely practice their religion. (We tend to overlook the fact that by their religion, they meant only theirs, because they would not let anyone else settle there later, not even Quakers.)

Anyway, a friend recently pointed out this interesting fact about why they landed where they did. It is taken from an account written by leaders of that hardy band:

From Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, 1622:

“That night we returned again a-shipboard, with resolution the next morning to settle on some of those places; so in the morning, after we had called on God for direction, we came to this resolution: to go presently ashore again, and to take a better view of two places, which we thought most fitting for us, for we could not now take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer, and it being now the 19th of December. After our landing and viewing of the places, so well as we could we came to a conclusion, by most voices, to set on the mainland, on the first place, on a high ground, where there is a great deal of land cleared, and hath been planted with corn three or four years ago, and there is a very sweet brook runs under the hillside, and many delicate springs of as good water as can be drunk…”
Well, I guess it is good they found water.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Food pantries

A friend commented on my post yesterday that I will probably be giving away tons of food if I keep my resolution. I guess it is an odd resolution. If I get upset, I will donate more food. If I remain calm and serene, I could donate less. So I think I had better just donate a can every time I think about this stuff, whether it bothers me or not.

Another plug for food pantries, though. Food pantries get hit hard this time of year anyway, and with the economic problems, layoffs and so on, they are going to be under greater stress this holiday season. (Don't forget, people have to eat year round, too.) When money gets tight, often people cut back on their donations to charities because they need the money to cover their own bills. This is understandable, but it does mean the charities have less to give at a time more people need them.

On the other hand, even when donations stay steady, the increased need has its impact. This is from a story about the situation in Peoria, for example:
Peoria Area Food Bank director Barb Shreves says many of the food pantries she works with have seen as much as a 50 percent rise in the number of mouths to feed.

Jim Sullivan of the Salvation Army's Heartland Division says although the organization is on track with many of their charity programs, inventory in their food pantry is dwindling. He said people who have given in the past are now standing in line saying they need help.

In McLean County, the Salvation Army has scrapped next week's annual give away of Thanksgiving baskets, and will hold onto the goods until Christmas. [Michel's note: I added the emphasis.]

Sullivan said the problem is not a shortfall in donations, but a rapidly growing need for assistance.
Your church probably has a program you can contribute to. Or give something to Meals on Wheels. As you know, Mama and Daddy are involved with that, and I am sure they would be happy to tell you how to help. BTW, one way to make sure that your donation is used for food is to donate food, not cash. Just make sure that the people you give food to have a way to distribute it to the hungry. Again, when in doubt, ask a local church for suggestions. Even if they don't have a program, they are sure to know someone who does.

Last year I posted on a Christmas train that travels across the country as part of a program to drum up support for local food pantries. Volunteers from the R &GN Railway support that not only by donations but by providing security for the event. Tom and I volunteered last year, and this year Tom has been put in charge of organizing the security. Most of the manpower is provided by local high school kids, but it is helpful to have an adult supervising each group. I am volunteering again, too. So another little contribution to the cause. This year the train is coming on a Wednesday evening, and I hope this doesn't cut into the participation. I also hope it is not as bitterly cold as last year, but this year we are prepared with hand warmers and toe warmers.

The train comes on December 10, so keep an eye out for a report later.

The Riverside & Great Northern had its own little food drive a couple of weekends back. Anyone who brought four cans of food got to ride for two dollars -- a savings of 80% for adult tickets. Unfortunately, it was a cold and dreary weekend and we did not get all that many riders. Nonetheless, we did collect a few bags of canned goods, rice and pasta to give to the local pantry.

Finally, when I was in the monastery, we had a tradition every year around Thanksgiving of going through our closets to see if we had clothes that we could donate to St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill or such. Even the friars usually discovered perfectly good shirts and jeans we had not worn for a while. (I am not saying this was because anyone was getting fatter!) So we always wound up with several bags of things to give away. I decided to do that this year, too. Yesterday when I went by St. Vincent de Paul in Baraboo, there was a line to drop off donations. A friend who works at the St. Vinnie's in Reedsburg said they had a quiet day. Hope all the places get a little busier over the next dew weeks.

PS -- On the weather front, we will have a high of about 27 today and a low tonight of 9 degrees. Whee, winter!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I was hungry, and you gave me food. Matthew 25:35

This is a large excerpt from an opinion piece from the Detroit Free Press about a story on a recent government report on hunger and children in America.

Apparently the news story got lost somewhere between coverage of “Dancing with the Stars” and the latest celebrity story about Jessica Simpson’s most recent night on the town.

The news story in question was about a new Department of Agriculture report that puts the number of American children who went without enough to eat during 2007 at close to 700,000. This number represents a jaw-dropping 50 percent increase from the previous year.

When I first spotted the story yesterday on the Huffington Post, I was stunned. So I decided to conduct a Google News search under “child hunger Department of Agriculture’’ and research what various news outlets across the country had to say about this national disgrace. Problem was, I couldn’t find much more to research. Apart from the Huffington Post story, all my search turned up were links to two newspaper stories, a story on the CNN News website, a story on a public television station website, an Associated Press story and a story from a paper in the United Kingdom. The rest of the results were a bunch of press releases on the websites of child advocacy groups.

That’s it? Close to three quarter of a million children in the richest nation in the history of humanity didn’t have enough to eat at some point last year and that’s all the news coverage I could find on this travesty?

Since you’re not going to find the report plastered all over the internet as it should be, here’s the link:

It turns out that the media was covering far more important matters, as I discovered when I conducted a couple more Google News searches:


“Obama puppy” / 5,944

“Miley Cyrus to perform on Dancing with the Stars” / 147

“Britney Spears' new documentary” / 426

“American Idol” / 17,473

“Heather Locklear arrest” / 284

“Angelina Jolie breastfeeding” / 97
Anyway, I too had seen the hunger report in a few places, but then it disappeared from view immediately. I have been upset by some things lately, and I have been wondering how to respond to them. So this morning I remembered the hunger story, and this is what I came up with.

Every time between now and Christmas that I find myself getting upset over these things, I will put aside a nonperishable food item and donate it (or the equivalent in cash) to a local food pantry. I already know the pantries are hard hit this year, and I am sure every little bit helps folks in my community who need it. Goodness knows I am not among those going hungry.

I am also considering including a short note with the donation telling them why I am giving it. No strings attached, just a note to say that this is my way of dealing with something that challenges me to get angry. Rather than hurtful speech or actions, I will try to turn that energy to helping.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


For those of you who don't know, some churches prepare for the coming of Christmas (and for the Second Coming) in a special way with four weeks of readings from the Old Testament about the expected Messiah and readings from the New Testament about the coming of God's riegn at the end of time. This season is called Advent -- from the Latin word adventus, which means coming. A complaint one often hears in these groups is that Advent -- the time to reflect and prepare -- has disappeared in the swirl and stress of holiday shopping. Actually, the craziness starts well before Advent; some stores around here had Christmas tree ornaments for sale back in September. And we all see the news reports about how retailers are desperately pushing Christmas sales earlier and earlier because of the hard economic times.

A friend of mine in Minnesota who is preparing to become a Lutheran minister posted this video about a different approach to preparing and celebrating. Click on the arrow and see.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In the news

This is from the November 15 Wisconsin Dells Events, our local newspaper. The picture is not online, and this is the best scan I could get on my little machine. The picture was taken last Thursday while I was working on the inventory after the Library Volunteer Luncheon.
The text says, " Delton resident Michael Dodd scans magazines into the Kilbourn Pulbic Library's computerized circulation system Thursday. Last year the library relied on 52 volunteers like Dodd to run book sales and assist the library staff account for all of its items during inventory in November. Volunteers contributed more than 2,000 hours of unpaid work to the library in 2007. In addition, the Friends of the Library hosted author talks and purchased Playaways, digital audio books, for the library. The library was clsoed for inventory this week but reopens Monday ..."
The city of Wisconsin Dells was originally named Kilbourn City, for Byron Kilbourn, the wheeler dealer who created the town by getting the railroad routed through here in 1857, thereby turning nearby Newport into a ghost town. Kilbourn had hoped that his new city would become an industrial center, but that never developed. Instead the natural beauty of the dells of the Wisconsin River attracted tourists, and in 1931, the town changed its name to Wisconsin Dells to capitalize on its most famous and profitable resource. A few things like the library and the fire department still carry the Kilbourn name.

Anyway, this proves that I actually do volunteer at the library. As proof that I also volunteer (and sometimes work -- same thing, but with a paycheck!) at the railway, here is a picture of Roberta, with me in the background, at the Museum Store. And, no, I am not picking my nose. (I hope!)

Tom was in the Baraboo paper a couple of weeks ago as part of an article on local campaign workers. That's him on the left, wearing the pink cap. You can't see the American flag on the front of it.

Now if we can jut get Cassidy and Sundance on the cover of Cat Fancy magazine, we will all have had our fifteen minutes of fame.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mostly moist Monday

We had more snow today -- still nothing accumulating, but for a while this morning it looked like a real snowfall, not just a flurry. It was that lovely fluffy snow, too, with large flakes falling very gently. It covered the deck and grass briefly, but it did not last long.

Tonight, meanwhile, we are expecting a low of 14 degrees.

I got quite a bit done on the Holy Hill history project this morning. There is more to do, but I think I will be able to send it to Jude by Thanksgiving as planned.

We got a Thanksgiving card from the Broccolos -- Vince, you are right about Kirstin and her cards -- and I got my first Christmas card, this from Fr. Steven Payne in Nairobi. I guess he wanted to mail way early to make sure it got here.

Peggy came over for a cup of coffee and brought us a couple of jars of homemade apple butter. She and Rich will join us for Thanksgiving dinner, along with Tom and Barb Baker. Peg and Rich had us over the first year we were here, and Tom and Barb invited us last year. Tom will do the turkey and dressing, Peggy will bake pies and we still need to check on what the Bakers will bring. I will get to fill in the gaps, I guess. Peggy has already hinted loudly that the meal would be incomplete without sweet potato pie in some form. Depending on what the Bakers do, I may also make the totally necessary green bean casserole.

I feel full just writing about it!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sleep Sunday

I suspect the cats did nothing but sleep all day, and they probably chose wisely. There was not much happening at the railroad. In fact, we only ran two trains -- and one of them only carried two passengers, a mother and her three-year-old son.

We closed things down a little early, and after a trip to Walmart, Tom grilled some ribs. Mmmm!

Now he is in watching his daughter Lucy and her roller derby team -- the Windy City Rollers -- compete in a championship match out in the northwest. He is watching it live on the internet, which gives you an idea of how things have changed in the world.

I am petting cats and waiting for Agatha Christie's Poirot to come on PBS at 8:00. I suppose I should go turn on the dishwasher.


Oh, yeah. The skunk smell is gone from the garage.

Dead skunk in the middle of the road

On the way into Reedsburg last night, Tom ran over a very dead skunk in the middle of the road. It was so smashed we did not realize what it was -- until a second after he hit it. Although it was well over an hour before we got home, the truck was still reeking when he pulled into the garage.

And it is still reeking now. Since it is cold, we want to keep the garage door closed to help keep the heat in the house. He just took off for the railroad in the truck, though, so maybe the stink will die out over the course of the day. I hope what is left in the garage will dissipate, too.

Things like this are apt to set Tom off endlessly singing annoying songs, such as this:

You got yer
Dead skunk in the middle of the road
Dead skunk in the middle of the road
You got yer dead skunk in the middle of the road
Stinkin' to high Heaven!

That's just the chorus, but he doesn't subject me to the whole song, which includes various other roadkill.

Haved a nice, skunk-free day!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Royal visitors

Hobos are part of railroad lore, and we honor that in a few ways at the R&GN. Along the tracks there are hobo signs, similar to the ones illustrated. Hobos would mark these along fences and buildings as they passed through, to provide information and warnings to those who came later. In addition to the signs along the tracks, we sell a coffee mug that has a bunch of hobo signs on it. And the conductors often notify the dispatcher or engineer that we need to stop to pick up or drop off hobos -- meaning we have some volunteers working out of the rails who need a ride back or to another work site.

We think of hobos as figures of the past, usually Depression era bums and vagrants. Actually it was a more complex historical reality that emerged in the nineteenth century and lasted for many decades. Unable to find work at home, many hobos were men who traveled around, working wherever they could and sending money back home. These were a fairly respectable crew -- although they were bumming free rides on the rail and making folks nervous with their camps (jungles) under bridges or on the edge of towns. They formed a sort of union as far back as the 1880's, and members approved a formal code of ethics:
1. Decide your own life, don't let another person run or rule you.
2. When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.
3. Don't take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.
4. Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again.
5. When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.
6. Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals treatment of other hobos.
7. When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.
8. Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.
9. If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.
10. Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.
11. When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.
12. Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming
along who will need passage through that yard.
13. Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose to authorities all molesters, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.
14. Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.
15. Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.
Needless to say, not all hobos were respectable and people were wise to be wary of them. But it is a reminder that we cannot always judge an individual by his or her outward appearance. It seems there were saints as well as sinners riding the rails

A National Hobo Convention is still held on the second weekend of every August in the town of Britt, Iowa, organized by the local Chamber of Commerce. The National Hobo Convention is the largest gathering of hobos, rail-riders, and tramps, who gather to celebrate the American traveling worker. They have a parade and elect a king and queen. To be elected king, you have to have been an actual rail-rider, not just a wanderer or a bum.

Today we were visited by the king (2001) and queen (2000): Grandpa Dudley and Mad Mary (their hobo names), a friendly and talkative elderly couple. Grandpa had to recite some poems for us, and his wife told us more than we could ever have thought we wanted to know about hobo culture, of which her husband had been a real part. PBS did a series on hobos some time back, and Grandpa Dudley was featured. They were in the area and always visit any train sites they run across. Back when they were a reigning couple, they presided at a Hobo Gathering at the MidContinent Railroad Museum in North Freedom, just a few miles from us, but this was their first visit to our little train. Here is a picture of the two of them I found online.

Okay, maybe not the Queen of England, but still a treat.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's not just us.

Some of the little communities around us have amazingly bitter political battles -- unrelated to the Republican-Democrat or even conservative-liberal or just about any other normally recognizable divide. The local newspaper reports of town meetings are a riot, and sometimes it sounds like a riot is what is going on.

But today I ran across this story from Idaho, proving that this is not a uniquely Badger State phenomenon:
In resignation speech, Idaho mayor tells town and council they're just too stupid to work with

ANTHONY, Idaho (AP) -- You can't call Bill Beck the mayor of "stupid" town anymore. The former St. Anthony mayor resigned from his post at a city council meeting Wednesday night, but not before telling off the townspeople and his fellow city council members.

Councilman Bryan Fullmer told the Standard Journal that Beck walked into the start of the meeting and announced his surprise resignation to the audience. Fullmer said Beck then told the audience that he was tired of people who were too stupid to understand, and turned and told council members that they were too stupid to work with, too.

Fullmer said Beck continued by telling the town to go to hell.
The audience responded to his resignation with applause. Beck left the meeting shortly after.

Beck declined to comment on the resignation.

Beck and the city council are the subjects of a recall petition. Beck said last week that he would vigorously defend himself against the recall.

Grub and/or victuals

We are apparently hosting some neighbors for Thanksgiving, and I was perusing the latest Bon appetit, a magazine that Tom's brother Steve had sent to us under the mistaken notion that this is how we eat. Or maybe he was implying this is how he wants to eat when he and his wife visit.

Anywho ... here is one suggested menu:

For a cocktail before dinner, they suggest a caipirinha with lime, ginger and mint to accompany piquillo pepper cheese crostini and chile-roasted almonds.

The meal itself --

Winter salad of butternut squash, endive, apples and bleu cheese
Sherry vinegar-and-molasses-glazed carrots
Standing rib roast with porcini stuffing
Irish whiskey gravy
Horseradish cream
Broccolini with pecan brown butter
(I wonder if Vince and Kristin's children will be Broccolini?)
Cheddar and chive Yorkshire puddings
Potato-mushroom gratin

All to be finished off with a simple dessert of chocolate-coffee gingerbread with hazelnut poached pears.

As I have said about other things, do not try this at home.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

So the drama!

Okay, if you have not read Kristin's blog about her crazy experience with the bank and her HSA, you must do so. It would be funny were it not so ... so something else.

Today we had the Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon for the library. It was at the Northwoods Grill in Spring Book Resort just down the road, which was very convenient. Afterward I went to the library for another three hours of work on the inventory.

The other day when I was there, one of the librarians suggested I let Cathy (the big boss) know that I am interested in working there. Kris says they will probably be hiring after the first of the year. So I talked briefly to Cathy this afternoon and gave her a copy of my resume. It would be great to work at the library. In fact, one reason I have been volunteering there is to become familiar with how things are done and to get to know people and to be known, just in case a job does open up. So say a prayer for that one.

Meanwhile Tom put in a lot of work on our proposal for the railway museum. He is great at visualizing things, and by yesterday afternoon he had put together a great proposal complete with drawings. There is a board meeting this Saturday, but I don't think he will be submitting anything this soon. There is not really enough time for them to look at it and discuss it. But maybe it can be on the agenda for the next meeting. He would like to have this up and running by the time the railway re-opens to the public next April. He plans to build the kiosks himself. I am sure he can do it. The design is simple, and he built most of the furniture in the house: the beds, the desks, the bookcases, the buffet and the entertainment center.

Yesterday Joe Screnock called to ask me to come over and spend some time helping their new assistant learn how to merge documents on their computer. This is the way they generate about 80% of their documents, closer to 95% of the pleadings that go into the court record. It is a dated system, not one that many people would have been trained to use, even if they are quite computer literate. Joe and Evelyn will be out of town, so tomorrow morning will be a good time for me to teach Shannon how to do it, without us being constantly interrupted. I just hope I can remember it myself!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


The Riverside & Great Northern Railway is not only a ride for the kids through the Dells countryside. It is also a "living museum", meaning it is "a non-profit making, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits, for purposes of study, education and enjoyment, the evidence of people and their environment." [Thanks to the International Council of Museums for that explanation.] In our case, we are conserving, etc. the Sandley Light Railway Equipment, Co., of which the Riverside & Great Northern Railway is a part. The Sandleys (Elmer and his son, Norm -- that's Elmer with his back to the camera in that photo and Norm is in the cab, but pretty much impossible to see) manufactured 15- and 24-inch gauge railroad engines and carriages, first in Janesville, WI in the late 1940s (where the photo was taken) and then on this location from the early 1950s until they went out of business in the 1980s. The Preservation Society came along a few years later to keep it open as a living museum and as one of the attractions in the Dells area.

The train track was set up for Elmer and Norm to demonstrate their engines to zoos and other folks that they were trying to get to buy equipment. They also opened it up to the public as a ide, and Tom remembers coming out to ride the train as a child. We recently had a visitor who told me his father had brought him, he had brought his kids and now he was there as his adult kids were bringing their own kids. So four generations of that family are a part of our history.

Little kids aren't the only ones who like trains. Most of the time, energy and finances of the Preservation Society have gone into the restoration, maintenance and operation of the little steam and diesel trains, mainly because the folks who started the society just love to play with trains. Incidentally, this includes women who serve as conductors, engineers and work on the tracks alongside the guys. The museum part of the mission has been somewhat neglected as a result. Tom and I have committed ourselves to helping develop that side of things, and this morning we say down to do some brainstorming for a proposal to send to the Board when it meets in December. Our hope is to create a series of kiosks that will make it possible for visitors to do a self-guided tour. The information and photographs that are incorporated into the displays would also be used as part of a virtual tour that visitors to the web site can take to familiarize themselves with the site before they come. The kiosks would also serve as anchors that tour guides could use to take small groups around, making it very easy for almost any volunteer to handle this important task.

So step one in a long line of steps has now been taken. We'll see where we go from here.

We are also supposed to be creating a proposal to present to the Board for getting the gift shop online. These things should keep us occupied somewhat as the winter weather shuts down on-site involvement in the railway, which will be closed to the public from early December until the spring thaw.

I had to include this picture of John and Judi Dauphin with their son Matt. I mentioned Matt as our youngest volunteer some time back. This is a great shot of the whole family. One of the ways people support the railway is by purchasing ties with their names carved into them. In this picture, the Dauphins are working on installing some of those ties.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sundance's Song: To the melody of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

Sundance, Sundance, skinny cat,
How I wonder where you're at.
Are you there up in the sky,
Or 'neath a bed, I know not why?
Sundance, Sundance, skinny cat,
How I wonder where you're at.

Cassidy's Song: To the melody of I'm a Little Teapot

My name is Cassidy,
short and stout.
This is my tail and
This is my snout.
When I am angry,
I will shout,
"Open the door and
Let me out!"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Closed Circuit

I don't know if you saw the news that Circuit City has filed for bankruptcy. You may recall my rants a year or so back about the bad experience I had with them when I purchased my laptop. I must say that the individuals I dealt with at the time, both on the telephone and face to face, were friendly and helpful. Well, they tried to be helpful. The way the place operated did not always make it possible for them to do much for me. I swore I would never go into one again, but I discovered that they had an exclusive contract with Lexmark to provide the ink cartridges for my printer -- so I have no choice. (Actually I order my cartridges from them online and have them shipped. So technically I am not stepping into their stores.) This is the printer that arrived broken, and then I had to go to two different stores on the opposite sides of Madison to pick up a good one.

This does not make for a happy, repeat customer.

News reports mentioned a number of factors in the collapse of Circuit City, and my name was never mentioned. I suspect, however, that my experience was not unique. People who had similar problems just decided to take their business elsewhere.

They hope to come out of bankruptcy next year. I wish them well. I hate to see any more people losing their jobs right now. As I mentioned above, the folks who work there seem fine. It is a shame that they will suffer the most because of poor policies and decisions made by management.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Later, 'gator!

Roberta and Bernie ate at Marley's recently, a restaurant/bar/night club in the Dells with a Caribbean theme. She liked it, and so I suggested to Tom that we give it a try. Today was very cold and damp with some snow flurries. Tom had worked outside over at the railway most of the day. (My job is nice and toasty inside in the winter and air conditioned in the summer.) A Caribbean theme seemed just about what we needed.

The menu was not all that extensive and it came printed on both sides of a large laminated piece of cardboard shaped like a fish. To be honest, this did not impress me favorably. In fact, at first I thought it was just a too-cute placemat.
This is the kind of place that has butcher paper masking taped to the top of the table and small buckets of crayons for the kids to play with. But then, so does our favorite pizza place.
I think they had more kinds of rum than food. They had a few Mexican items -- basically enchiladas, burritos and fajitas -- but we decided to play it safe. Tom had a jerk pork sandwich, and I took a risk with their gator sandwich. Yep, real alligator, or so the waitress assured me.

And actually it was pretty good. A little chewy, but tasting a lot like -- wait for it! -- fried scallops. Ha! Not chicken.

When the waitress asked if I liked it, I told her I did and it would give me something to blog about.

"It doesn't take much," I told her, and Tom snorted his agreement.

And that's the whole story.

Friday, November 7, 2008

There's no business like snow business

I don't know if we got any snow last night, but today we went into Madison to do some looking around and a bit of shopping. I drove down through drizzle and rain.

After going to World Bazaar and Savers, Tom wanted to go to Best Buy to scope out the HDTvs, but we decided to have lunch first. We went to a little Japanese place at the food court in the mall -- very filling chicken teriyaki and for the right price. While we were there, I looked out the glass wall and saw that the rain had turned to a steady snow. That kept up until we headed back to the Dells, stopping about the time we got out of the immediate Madison area.

We had planned to have dinner with Jim and Debbie Kinder and her mother tonight, but Tom finally succumbed to the cold that has been hiding under his tiredness the last few days. We made it home, called and cancelled.

I am supposed to be at the railway tomorrow, and I will go over to finish putting price labels on some things and putting then out on the shelves. Looks like the morning will be mostly showers mixed with snow and the temperatures won't get out of the thirties. In that case I will probably only stay until after Roberta has her lunch and then come home. Sunday I will go back, but I don't think there will be much happening either day with the weather like it is.

Next week is major library stuff. The library will be closed for inventory, and I have signed up for four hours of work on Monday and again on Thursday. Thursday is also the day of the Library Volunteer Luncheon, which will take place at the restaurant at Spring Brook Golf Resort, right at the end of our road. I thought about skipping the lunch, but I got talked into it. I usually work alone when I am at the library, so I know all the librarians but only one of the other volunteers, Marty Preston. Fortunately she told me she was going to be there, too, so I will have at least one familiar face around.

I am not the only dude who volunteers at the library, but I would say the guys are outnumbered about ten to one. Only one of the librarians, Jesse, is male, and he seems to be the library computer geek as much as anything. I'm pretty sure he feels isolated, because he always tries to drum up a conversation when I am around. Some high school guys also help out from time to time, but that is short term. I have the impression it is a form of community service, although I don't know if it is imposed or just part of one of the programs at school.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Post-Guy Fawkes

It's raining,
It's pouring.
Cassidy's snoring

Well, last night was Guy Fawkes (in England and remnants of the Empire) and was celebrated with bonfires and fireworks. The weather people had promised us fireworks in the form of lightning, but nothing happened.

This morning, although it began raining about 8:00 a.m., the electrical display is no longer in the forecast.

Cassidy, as you can see in the photo, is asleep on my bed, snoring. I am sitting at my desk, but behind me I can hear her gently sawing wood. She and/or her sister usually are sleeping in my bed by the time I get up, which doesn't matter except that I like to make my bed first thing and they do not cooperate with that. It being rainy and cool outside, I suspect Cassidy will snore away on my bed most of the day. Some days she will sleep the morning in my room, get up and stretch around noon, go outside to scratch etc., demand to be let back in and then head to Tom's room to sleep on his bed or to his office to doze on the window box he set up for the cats there.

Meanwhile, weather here has gone from a couple of sunny days in the low 70s to a predicted
high of only 43 tomorrow and 40 on Saturday. Both Friday and Saturday nights may bring more snow flurries. Just flurries.

As you know from my many complaints, last winter set records for snowfall totals -- over ten feet for the season. I keep hearing people saying that they are saying we will have anywhere from three to six MORE feet of snow this year. I am not sure who they, are of course -- wooly caterpillars seen packing bags and booking flights to Florida, The Farmer's Almanac, the local Native Americans or what. I can only hope they are wrong.

Monday, November 3, 2008

November flamingos

A couple of times recently I have had occasion to give people directions to our house. It is actually pretty simple, especially since Wisconsin law demands that a highly visible sign by the drive display the address for the sake of the fire department and other emergency services.

I usually also tell people to just keep an eye out for the house with the flamingos in the front yard. Of course, people usually assume that means a couple in the flower bed, but as you regular readers know, we have two large groups [flocks?] -- one near the entrance (pictured above) and another on the opposite side of the drive and closer to the house. Altogether there are thirty-something.

Mostly people just nod, but a friend from up on Christmas Mountain looked at me quizzically and asked, "Why?"

He hasn't even seen them yet. I can hardly wait until he comes by this week.


Flock of falmngos? I think it should be something better than that -- maybe a flush of flamingos.

Monday musing

When we are dogsitting Buddy the Dog, Tom or I will come home at midday to let him out and take him for a brief walk so he is not stuck in the house all day while we are out. Yesterday after tending to him, I was just getting ready to go back to the railway when Helen and Jay arrived to take him home. I told them about my morning scare, and Helen told me it takes Buddy a while to wake up in the morning. I can relate to that!

Today has been beautiful, a bit breezy but sunny and with a high in the mid-70s. Later in the week will not be so good, but I am enjoying it today. One advantage to the end of Daylight Savings is that I am really awake even early in the morning. I will look down at my watch after getting all sorts of things done, and it will still be only 8:45. The down side, of course, is that I start fading before 8:00 P.M.

Back in 2000, when I was Vocation Director for the friars, I set up a vocations website. I did it using a very simple program that cost me about ten bucks, but until very recently, that was the website they were still using. Unfortunately, when I turned over all that to someone else, he neglected to get all the paperwork updated, and so the right to that particular site recently expired. The new Director contacted me on Friday, and we managed to get it reinstated today. If you want to see it -- updated a number of times since I set it up, but still pretty simple, click here. I see that some of the information is still out of date. For example, one page tells you to write to the Vocation Director at the house in Chicago, a monastery that the friars no longer have.

See what happens when I'm not there to take care of things?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Scare tactics

Today is All Souls Day, when Catholics pray for all the deceased. You may have heard it called the Day of the Dead.

Soooo ...

Buddy the Dog scared me this morning.

I woke up about 5:00 a.m. (DST) and got up to go to the bathroom. When I got out of bed, I stepped on Buddy's tail. When he is here, he often sleeps in my room, curled up right by the bed, but not always in the same spot. I wasn't surprised that he was there.

I as surprised that he did not react.

I went to the bathroom and came back.

"Buddy," I called.


'Buddy!" a bit louder.


I turned on a light and went over. I rubbed his head. I poked his ribs. Nothing.


Buddy has been slowing down a lot, and yesterday afternoon and evening, he seemed very restless, wandering around the house, wanting out, wanting in -- almost like a cat.

I turned on the overhead light and called Tom.

"Dog,"I said simply.

From his office Tom called back, "Is he dead?"

I turned around and Buddy's eyes were open and he was looking at me, wagging his tail slightly.

Don't DO that, dude!

Helen and Jay are picking him up this afternoon and heading back to Minnesota. At least he's still breathing.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


It already feels like it is getting dark early, but beginning Sunday, sunset in the Dells will be about ten minutes BEFORE five. By December 21/22, the shortest day of the year, the sun will be setting around four o'clock.

For those of us with a touch of Seasonal Affecive Disorder, this is not good news. And I think even people who don't suffer from SAD nonetheless get sad when there is so little sunlight.

So do what you can to brighten someone's day, huh? We can all use the help.