Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

The odd headline juxtapostion on my news app this morning:
Woman Knocks Down Pope at Midnight Mass
Obama Tells Congress:'Finish the Job'
Well, the President was talking about health care legislation, not finishing off the Holy Father.

But it made for a startled second look on my part.

We had a nice night at the AmericInn -- the guy who checked us in is someone I know for the library -- and this morning had a lovely breakfast and exchanged gifts. Tom and Helen each got a coffee mug (Texas Dad, Texas Mom) from son John who is in law school at UT. Lucy got a Texas shirt from him. I thought I should post pictures of all these Texas gifts, but since they were University of Texas, not just Texas, I figured I would not risk it with the Aggie-Dodds.

When we passed one of the time/temperature signs this morning it said, "Balmy 35" (1.6 C). Only in Wisconsin! Rain turning to snow later and making the roads slushy and icky.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

AmericInn Responds

I had written yesterday that I was unhappy about the likelihood that we were going to have to pay for a day at the motel where we have reservations even if we are unable to get there because of the bad weather. This evening I got a nice e-mail from the manager of the AmericInn here in the Dells, assuring me that their normal cancellation policy would not apply if bad weather were to force us to cancel the reservation. To quote him:
While this is our standard policy, we also take into account the health and well being of our guests. In the case of potentially hazardous road conditions...we would certainly not want to have an individual risk their safety in order to meet the obligation of their reservation. In the case of extremely poor weather conditions...we can and will cancel your reservation and waive the penalty fees. I apologize if you were informed otherwise. If you ever have a concern that you do not feel is being handled sufficiently, do not hesitate to call and speak to me personally so we can discuss and hopefully agree to a mutual compromise on the situation.
I assured him that it looks like we will be taking advantage of his hospitality after all, but I wanted to post this clarification here for the handful of people who might have read my earlier grumpy complaint and received a bad impression of AmericInn as a result.

As I said in my previous post, it is a very nice place to stay; and as you can see, Someone is on the ball because they read my remarks on this blog -- and I am sure no one there has ever looked at it before. Did a guardian angel help me out on this one?

'Twas the Night Before Christmas Eve ...

The weather reports have gotten bad enough that Helen called about dinner time to say that she and Jay (and Dinah) are heading down here this evening, hoping to miss the worst of the mess. So we are working to get the house ready to receive them. Maybe not exactly the finishing touches, but enough to provide a clean, warm bed and shelter from the storm. We will hope that Lucy, John and Armand get away from Chicago tomorrow and make it safely through the precipitation -- various and diverse in temperature and form.

The cats are always put out of joint by the changes in their living space -- presents wrapped and stacked, tables moved around, things put away and other things put out. Because we do not know exactly how they and Dinah will react to one another, there are added alterations this year, including gates at doorways (with catdoors in the gates) so Sundance and Cassidy will have some places to go where a frisky puppy cannot reach. And there is a new litter box in the basement and their food has been moved into Tom's office where their front-yard viewing platform is located.

We'll see how all this goes.

My most recent book

Although I posted about this before, today I finally got a copy of the updated history of Holy Hill for which I provided the text. It is a nice booklet of 64 pages with lots of color phootgraphs to complement my beautiful writing. (Ahem, ahem!)

I got a nice note from a nun in Pennsylvania, telling me how much she enjoyed my John of the Cross mystery and saying that she thought it would be a good way to introduce new members to the history of the Order.

I had hoped, of course, to have a second mystery out around the beginning of 2010, but that is not going to happen. Things at the railroad absorbed more time and energy than I had expected this fall. I did do some work on the mystery, but it is hard to say how long it will take to complete it now that I will have a full time job again.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Weather worry woes?

The weather forecasts for our area get more and more unpromising as the days pass. At first, it looked like we would be having snow flurries and snow showers leading up to a fairly calm Thursday for travelers and Friday for Christmas. Then it looked like snow for Thursday, with maybe freezing rain complicating the ride up from Chicago for Lucy, John and Armand. Now the word is that the Minnesota crew may get snowed in at St. Paul. AND, worse, the weather report for Thursday has shifted to freezing rain here, too, followed on Friday by freezing rain mixed with snow. So we may need to cancel the whole thing. Decision on that tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, an annoying financial bit is that if we cancel everything and don't need to use the motel, we will have to pay a fee plus one night's stay, even if we don't stay there. This is an utter rip-off, because they charge you a cancellation fee even if you cancel three days in advance! If you cancel less than three days in advance, you are liable for one night, weather being no excuse, of course. Jerks! AmericInn is a nice place to stay, but this cancellation policy is absurd. Most places let you cancel up to the afternoon of the day you plan to arrive and don't charge anything if you do.

Other than that, things are lovely!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The beauty of simplicity

Peter did these two packages, one for me and one for Tom, using plain brown paper that he cut and formed, topping the design with a silver bead. I thought they deserved a showing all to themselves.



Martha, eat your heart out!

Prayers for Africa

I had an e-mail yesterday from Fr. Steven Payne, who is still in Nairobi, and thought I would pass along part of it with a request for prayers:
Here a St. Patrick's Mission Society priest was hacked to death a few days ago, and it hardly got the attention of the Kenya media, though it has been all over the papers in Ireland, where he was from.

Keep us in your prayers.

Peace,
Steven

Steve tells me the priest was apparently a victim of a robbery. His name was Jeremiah Roche. I found this online about him:
Father Jeremiah ( Jerry ) Roche died tragically at Keongo Mission, Kericho on 11th December.

He is deeply regretted by his sisters, Kit, Mary Ann and Eileen,(Chicago) Nora and Margaret, (Athea ) Hannah, ( Dublin ); his brothers Patrick and Noel ( Athea) Christy ( Chicago) and Michael
(Charleville ) his family circle, his Society family and very many friends as well as his co workers and parishioners.

We are grateful for the many expressions of sympathy from so many people, especially those who worked with him. May God reward you for your kindness.
You will notice that he had a number of siblings in the States. Fr. Roche was 68 and had served in Africa for almost 40 years.

Although our friars live in an area that is relatively secure, Kenya can still be a dangerous place. Please keep them all -- American friars and Kenyans alike -- in your prayers.

Have yourself a spotless little Chistmas!/There's no need to rush!

When I got up this morning, Tom was already hard at work getting the house clean for our guests. (Who will arrive on Thursday, I think.)

I suspect that Tom and Peter think I am a bit of a clean-house freak, but the truth is that I am more an anti-clutter freak. All those years in the monastery trained me to leave rooms straightened up and neat. So I am bothered when the ironing board is left out in the library or tools pile up on the buffet or empty soda bottles cover the kitchen cabinets or the sink is full of dirty dishes. I prefer that things be put away -- you know, compulsive about a-place-for-everything and everything-in-its-place. (After all, the Latin name of the Discalced Carmelites is Ordo Carmelitarum Discalceatorum, making the initials used at the end of names O.C.D., which happily [or not] also stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder. I'm just saying ...)

Tom, on the other hand, gets all CLEAN clean. This morning he is not just putting stuff away. He is taking everything off the bookcases so that he can dust and oil the wood. The entire house will smell like Old English lemon oil by the end of the day.

So I will try to stay more or less out of the way. I do have to clean up my room and get it ready for Helen and Jay. Actually I started a couple of weeks ago by uncluttering my closet. I will have to get the bathroom in shape -- and yes, I will clean it thoroughly. I'll even bring out the steamer for the floor and the shower stall and get some anti-rust stuff so the toilet looks respectable. (If I could only keep the cats from muddying up the rim with their paws!) I will also clean (maybe even OIL) my bookcases and desk, and get the under-bed storage hidden better. Come Thursday morning, I can do the carpet and put clean linens on the bed. I got a holiday quilt on sale to add a festive note.

And pack my own bag for heading to the AmericInn later in the day.

Meanwhile, I am procrastinating.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Getting there ...

A few more packages ...

Here are two of Peter's contributions. I note that he made fun of us for what we did, but you can judge for yourself how contagious the disease is. Also you may see that Peter introduces an element of deconstructionism in his work.


I know that Peter has several more to wrap, so you may be seeing further examples of his labors later.

This is a simple, yet somehow overblown little number Tom put together.

And this is also Tom's creation, although I must take credit or blame for finding the adornment. Be sure to press the arrow in the lower left corner of the frame for the full effect.

video

Tom says that the one below is the last one he is doing, but we will have to see about that. There is at least one more that he has been working on getting materials to match. As I say, Peter has some more to do, and I may be lured into some fancy paperwork later. On the other hand, the next few days need to be devoted to getting the house cleaned and ready for guests. So that should help burn up some of the holiday energy that has been going into the ribbons and bows.




Christmas insanity

The decorating frenzy that has gripped Tom is getting worse. At least now he is just talking about what we will do NEXT year. (I am sure this will all have passed long before I actually have to help install gilded wallpaper behind the television set.)

This morning he suggested that each year we take a -stan as a theme: Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Hindustan, etc. [In case you were wondering, -stan comes from the Persian word for land, so these names are basically like England, Newfoundland, Ireland, etc.]

I pointed out that I think this year we are already on the verge of Tackystan.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wilde/Life

I just finished listening to Hesketh Pearson's The Life of Oscar Wilde. It was fascinating, and I learned a lot that I had not known about Wilde himself, his trial and his "deathbed conversion" to Catholicism. He was famous or notorious for his witticisms, of course, and the biography was sprinkled with them. It's hard to know which one I liked best, and some are so well known that they have become cliches or figures of speech, their origins completely forgotten.

One of the best, undoubtedly, was a remark that some thought should have been on his tombstone (but was not). In a conversation with Robert Ross, he once said, "Robby, when the last trump sounds and we are couched in our porphyry tombs, let's pretend not to hear it."

This reflects on his general indifference to matters of faith -- I myself put little confidence in that deathbed baptism -- but even more on his personal indolence. Apparently he intended to carry on in the next life pretty much as he had in this one.


The epitaph on his tomb in Paris, pictured above, actually reads,
And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.
And on a totally different note about a diferent kind of wildlife...

When I went to check on the mail this morning, an eagle swooped down over the field across the road. It was closer to me than the house is to the mailbox, and it flew down and then up and over the trees across the field. I could see it flying off through the branches for a while. Tom had seen one recently, and I assume it was the same eagle. Although I saw one flying overhead near the house last year, and they are a somewhat common sight along the Wisconsin River, they don't frequent our neighborhood that much.


Too cool!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A song for the season

Jingle bell, jingle bell, monkey bell rock!
Monkey bells chime in jingle bell time!
Dancing and prancing on Tom's rocking chair,
In the frosty air!

Mix and a-mingle in the jingling feet,
That's the monkey's bell,
That's the jingle bell,
That's the monkey bells rock!

A few more packages

This isn't all. As I suspected might happen, Tom is now gussying up (some of) the gifts that had originally been more simply wrapped. But he is not responsible for all this. There will be more, because I believe Peter is going to take a hand and do at least one, but more in keeping with another family custom. Wait and see!

Meanwhile, again the colors aren't great, but you get the idea ...

This first one is a gift for the General Manager at the R&GN and his wife, hence the bell and ribbon, my contribution.


Another in the silver and blue theme. The paper is a deeper blue, but the foil reflects the light.


Next up is a fairly typical Martha bow with hologram foil that doesn't show up too well.

Then we have Tom's abstract salute to a sleigh.


Finally, another Martha-bow-and-bell motif, but Tom did this one.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Winter Wednesday

Depending on which computer you believe, it is either 3 below zero or 6 below zero (-19.4 C or -21 C) at 8:15 AM as I begin this post. The good news is that there is no wind, so the wind chill is just the same as the temperature -- whichever temperature that is. Looking at the forecast between now and Christmas, looks like we will not get above freezing and will have a chance of snow showers a couple of times. The ground will certainly still be white for The Day, but this year everyone should be able to make it up here (or down here). Last year's Christmas Eve winter storm meant the Chicago crowd never got here, and we and Helen and Jay had a quiet but enjoyable Christmas Eve and Christmas morning on our own. Since the weather kept Rich and Peggy here, they joined Tom and me for a nice dinner, making Christmas a restful and good time for all.

Not too much on the agenda today, and I will most likely go to the library and try to get some writing done. I also need to look for something to use to Martha-ize a particular gift. There are still a few to be done before I post the next set of photos. Meanwhile, I will let the anticipation build.

Tonight we are going to a Christmas party for the Stewards of the Dells. Tom is making his famous Greek Salad as our contribution to the food. Tomorrow evening there is a Pre-Christmas Gathering at St. John's in Reedsburg, and a couple of friends will be talking as part of the program. At the moment, we are thinking of foregoing the dinner at 6:30, attending the talks at 8:00 and then heading home before Santa arrives at 9:00. My introversion can only take so much!

I finally made our room reservations for Christmas. Because the house fills up with family/guests for Christmas Eve and Day, Tom and I get a room elsewhere for a couple of nights. Helen and Jay get my room and bath and the kids and guests are spread out in the other bedrooms and the office. Peter, of course, has his own room this year. Sundance and Cassidy have to fend for themselves. Usually we stay at the local Econo Lodge, but for some reason this year I could not get a room there. So we are staying at the AmericInn, also nearby and a bit fancier but at about the same price.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A-Martha-Stewarting we will go!

The Martha Stewart Christmas specials have a certain fascination, a bit like watching an incredibly complicated train wreck. As we watched bits and pieces of them over the past week, we laughed and wondered, who on earth would do any of this?

So Tom decided we would do up some of the gift wrappings in a Martha-esque manner, as a joke. The problem was that Tom, having an eye for design and artistic gifts inherited from both of his parents, can't help making something that he intends to be absurd sometimes turn out pretty classy. These pictures show some of the results. The colors are not all that good in the photos, but you get the idea.

This first one is a sort of overview of the top of the bookcase that divides the living room and the library. At the moment, it is a staging area for gifts as they are readied. Of course, come The Day, all these will be under the tree.


Following are close-ups of a few of the packages. The idea was to take one gift per person and froo-froo it up. The others are pretty simple paper and bows. This first little effort gives you an idea of what I think is fancy enough -- a bell added to the ribbon.


This led to our (my) first Martha-ing by making a ribbon following her instructions and adding more bells. (Can't have too many jingle bells this time of year, right?)


Then Tom got into the act. I have removed the name of the recipient to keep folks guessing. The froo-froo looks silver in the photo, but it is actually more of a rusty-brown, sort of auburn color. There were a lot of ornaments, even trees, this color out there this year.


Then he decided to go with some silver trim, so the ultimate snowflake. This is truly shiny!


And following on a similar note ...


There are a few yet to be done, so updates as circumstances warrant.

And, no, we did not go so far as to make boxes out of chocolate or marzipan! There are limits, after all.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Writing your representatives

For what it's worth, I write my US Representative regularly and my senators occasionally to express my concerns. Recently I also wrote the President. Now I know my most recent letters didn't make the difference, but within 48 hours, the White House, my representative and one of my senators issued statements that coincided with the stand I had taken on the issue I wrote about.

So maybe it helps if I communicate with the people who can do something about what I like or don't like, instead of ranting to everyone who cannot do anything.

Except maybe everyone could write to their representatives, etc.

Most of them have e-mail links that make it very easy to do so.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gaudete

This Sunday is the third Sunday (of four) of Advent -- the season of preparation for the celebration of Christmas. During the Advent season the colors of the priest's robes are purple or violet, a reminder of the need for repentance in order to receive God's gift of mercy. On the third Sunday, halfway through Advent, though, the color of the robes are softened and lightened to a rose, a sign that even before we are fully prepared, we begin to experience God's gift which brings light to us.

There is a similar change of color halfway through Lent. Both Advent and Lent Sundays have special names denoting this lightening of spirit, based on the scriptural text sung at the beginning of Mass on that Sunday. In Advent, it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the opening Latin version of Philippians 4:4-5 -- Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always.

I once attended Mass in Washington, DC on Gaudete and the priest appeared to be wearing a lovely, simple rose vestment. When time came for his homily, however, he pointed out that the church did not have a rose vestment. What he had done was take one of the purple vestments that had a rose lining and turned it inside out. It looked fine and fit the feast. He then went on to talk about how we often fail to discover what we need because we only look at things one way. When we turn things over or inside out or just walk around to the other side, we may find something wonderful has been there all along. It was just our failure to look that made us miss it.

He went on to talk about how easy it was for people not to see the meaning of Mary's pregnancy or the meaning of the child she bore or the meaning of the revelation of God that he brought.

But it applies to so many things in my daily life: when I only look at people, situations and things one way, I fail to see the whole picture -- and may miss the most important part of all!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas coals

Kristin laughed about my remark that bad boys and girls would get copies of my books for Christmas instead of coal. The reason I thought of that is because we sell "Official Lumps" at the railroad as a Christmas gag. What makes them official is that I shrink wrap them so you don't get your hands dirty. You can just pick up an unofficial lump lying along the tracks, but you will get smudges.

This past year, I realized that we have over 200 old videotapes of trains -- videotapes, not DVDs -- and no matter how low we mark them down, no one buys them. That is because not all that many people have VCRs anymore. So I thought of suggesting that people buy them instead of coal to put into the stockings of naughty children. It would be a nasty present for just about any kid. A kid who doesn't like trains wouldn't want it, and any kid who does like trains most likely wouldn't be able to watch it.

So it might be with my books ...

On the other hand, someone just bought a copy of the Elijah book.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Nice story from the Dells

Friday, December 11, 2009
Pedro's to provide free Christmas dinner for needy
Michelle Burch, general manager and part owner at Pedro's Mexican Restaurant.

Michelle Burch, general manager and part owner at Pedro's Mexican Restaurant.

By Anna Krejci, Dells Events

Families with limited resources have an invitation to eat a free traditional holiday meal at Pedro’s Mexican Restaurant on Christmas Day.

Michelle Burch, general manager and part owner of Pedro’s, is organizing the meal with the Central Wisconsin Community Action Council. Low-income families living in the Dells School District eligible to use the local food pantry are also eligible for the free dinner. Vouchers are available at the CWCAC food pantry from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Thursdays.

Burch has a personal reason for starting a free Christmas Day meal. She said she wanted to begin a new tradition after her husband, Ron, died in April. Burch said she and Ron were married for 17 years and have two children ages 15 and 11.

She said Ron worked at a variety of places in the Dells including the Chalet, Ho-Chunk Casino, Chula Vista Resort, Family Dollar, Kalahari, Famous Dave’s and the dog track that used to be in Lake Delton. Michelle said he mostly worked as a bartender.

“I tried to think of something different we could do,” she said.

Had Ron not died, Michelle said she and her children would probably open gifts in the morning on Dec. 25 and visit her mom for dinner.

Now she’s inviting her friends and family to help her make a memorable Christmas for other people who may be experiencing hard times, for financial reasons.

“It just started out as an idea I had one night,” she said of hosting a meal. “And I was talking it over with a couple of girlfriends. And it just kind of evolved from that,” she said. “Almost everybody I talk to about it and I know, want to be involved somehow and want to help,” she said. “That’s cool.”

Wal-Mart, Zinke’s Village Market and Sysco are donating items for the meal. Pedro’s is supplying the ham and turkey. The menu also includes stuffing, potatoes, corn, rolls, dessert and beverages.

Burch said 268 people have signed up for the dinner, and she expects she might get several more hundred people to come. The restaurant accommodates about 250 people so guests will be assigned a time to come between noon and 4 p.m. Christmas Day.

Pedro’s will be closed to the general public on Christmas.

Caroling while guests dine and a party for volunteers afterward are planned, according to Burch.

Kim McClelland, CWCAC food pantry coordinator, said the event will be good for people who are struggling financially. “It’s wonderful,” she said.

McClelland said Michelle first called interested in doing a meal for Thanksgiving but learned that Denny’s in Wisconsin Dells already does a meal. The CWCAC staff suggested fixing a meal for Christmas, and McClelland is unaware of anyone else in town that does one besides Michelle.

“To my knowledge, she’s the first. There definitely could be other people in the community that do it, but I’ve not heard of any of them,” she said.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Quick blast

The library job keeps looking better and better. This is the job I had been hoping for since moving up here -- health insurance, pension and other benefits, and a starting salary that is about 15% more than what I was making even in Chicago. And with books and book lovers all day long! How cool is that?

Check back around Groundhog Day for the honeymoon's-over update.

Also, someone(s) bought a couple of copies of the mystery today. Perhaps that is what bad little boys and girls will get instead of coal in their stockings this Christmas!

And a happy feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Saturday to you all. We are having Peggy over for my famous enchiladas suizas.
After having a nice November and fairly decent beginning to December, winter finally arrived this week with a foot of snow and sub-zero temperatures as I have been reporting.

It is driving the cats crazy. Cassidy likes to be outside prowling and hunting. Now she finds herself confined to the house for most of the day, scurrying back in after each foray into the outer cold. She has settled for hunting her sister and chasing toys around, or, in a pinch, following one of us and demanding attention.

Sundance is more of an indoor cat, but she too is perplexed. She looks outside and it is bright and sunny. So she trots out only to discover it is barely above zero, and she runs to the deck door to look pathetic and be let back in. I can just see in her eyes that she can't understand why it is sunny and cold. She lies in the sun and it is warm. What's up with this cold thing?

It reminds me of being in school in 1984 with students from the Philippines and from Africa. They too were surprised that winter days in St. Louis could be bitter cold when the sky was clear and the sun bright. Some of them came from areas where there were two seasons -- dry and rainy. The rainy season and its overcast days brought cooler temperatures. The sun had always meant warmth. To discover a place where this was reversed was unsettling.

Reminds me of the struggle people have with anything -- or anyone -- that they are not used to. To expect them to accept easily a situation where what is familiar is not always and everywhere the norm is like expecting people from Nairobi not to connect sunshine with warmth. It is not a bias. It is just the way it is. Sun = warm; cloudy = cool. Or so we may think.

We all tend to assume that the way it is where we come from -- whatever that means -- is just the way it is everywhere, and therefore obviously the way God means it to be.

Guess not. Ask Sundance. She just came into my room and hopped up on my bed -- where the patch of sunlight is doing what it is supposed to do: provide warmth.

Cats may not be able to learn. People can, if we try.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

There's more to a blizzard than snow, Sunny!

The blizzard warning has been lifted, and now we are waiting for the temps to drop and the winds to pick up. After midnight tonight and into tomorrow morning, wind chills are expected to be 18-to-20 below zero (-27.7-to-28.8 C).

NOT fun! Tom is supposed to meet up with another volunteer at the railroad early in the morning to go over and snow plow the drives and clear some of the walks there. This is so that firefighters will be able to get to the buildings in case a fire breaks out.

I don't plan on doing much in the morning, but I do hope to be able to get to the library by 1:00 for my volunteering and to talk to my soon-to-be new boss about the job. I may bake some cookies to take over. Last week I brought some Christmas cookie tins over for Kris to use for a library craft project, and Tara got excited because she thought I had brought cookies or candy. So maybe I had better get something together this time. I especially want to be nice to Tara, because it is her decision to move that meant a full time position opened up for me. Plus, she's great. I will miss her, as will the young adult readers group that she has been helping out.

Storm Photos at 9:00 AM

This is the house. My car and Peter's are tucked safely in the garage, with the snow blower by Peter's.


Tom's truck had to sit out in the storm while my Vibe and Peter's Century stayed nice and clean in the garage.

The front yard ...


This is the deck. That is about 14 inches of snow on top of the table.

Tom easily convinced me that the flamingos would be safe and did not need to be dug out and brought in. The flock above is near the entrance to the drive, the one below is down near the house.


PS -- Now they are predicting a low of 1 tonight (-17.2 C), a high of 9 tomorrow (-12.7 C) and 4 below Thursday night (-20 C). We won't see above freezing for at least another week, so all this is going to stay with us. Yippee!

There's No Cats Like Snow Cats Like No Cats I Know!

Cassidy and Sundance began complaining last night when we would not let them go out into the storm. This morning they are still complaining and giving us the evil eye, convinced that somehow we are responsible for all that cold, wet, white stuff piled up on the deck and the yard. So far it is about fourteen inches according to Tom, who spent two hours shoveling and snow-blowing the sidewalk, garage pad and drive this morning. The snow is still coming down and will continue through most of the day.

I am happy to report that the cats are using their litter boxes (one in the laundry room and one in the garage), but they are clearly not pleased. Sorry, ladies! Those are going to be your facilities until April, most likely.

And don't forget -- I am the one who has to clean them! I have already scooped out four bags this morning.

On the other hand, I have little room for complaints. After clearing our drive, Tom went over to our neighbors to see what he can do to help Peggy. (Rich is out of town. Good timing, huh?) Tom talked to Rich by phone this morning and Rich thought his truck-cum-plow would be able to handle the drives, but Peggy and Tom looked it over and decided not to try. Tom shoveled her walks and the guy who did their lawns this summer will be over later with his equipment to clear the drive.

Should I go get the flamingos?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Blizzard warning, or Sunny, do you still want to visit?

So now our weather people are trying to make us panic:

A BLIZZARD WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL MIDNIGHT CST WEDNESDAY NIGHT.

* TIMING: MAINLY LIGHT SNOW WILL CONTINUE THROUGH LATE AFTERNOON... BECOMING HEAVY SOUTHWEST TO NORTHEAST THIS EVENING AND INTO WEDNESDAY MORNING. THE SNOW WILL TAPER OFF TO SCATTERED SNOW SHOWERS AND FLURRIES BY WEDNESDAY EVENING. STRONG WINDS WILL DEVELOP THIS EVENING AND COMBINE WITH FALLING AND BLOWING SNOW TO CREATE BLIZZARD CONDITIONS AT TIMES THROUGH WEDNESDAY EVENING.

* SNOW ACCUMULATIONS: 10 TO 14 INCHES IS EXPECTED BY WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON MOST PLACES... WITH LOCALLY HIGHER AMOUNTS.

* WINDS: EAST AT 10 TO 15 MPH THROUGH LATE AFTERNOON... INCREASING TO 15 TO 25 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 35 MPH THIS EVENING AND TURNING NORTHEAST OVERNIGHT. THE WINDS WILL TURN NORTHWEST WEDNESDAY MORNING AND INCREASE TO 20 TO 30 MPH... WITH GUSTS TO 40 MPH... THEN BECOME WEST AND SLOWLY DIMINISH TO 15 TO 20 MPH WEDNESDAY EVENING AND NIGHT.

* IMPACTS: TRAVEL CONDITIONS WILL DETERIORATE RAPIDLY THIS EVENING AND REMAIN HAZARDOUS THROUGH WEDNESDAY. SEVERE BLOWING AND DRIFTING SNOW WILL CREATE WHITEOUT CONDITIONS AT TIMES.

* CONTINUE TO MONITOR LATER FORECASTS AND STATEMENTS ON THIS MAJOR WINTER STORM.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

A BLIZZARD WARNING MEANS SEVERE WINTER WEATHER CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED OR OCCURRING. FALLING AND BLOWING SNOW WITH STRONG WINDS AND POOR VISIBILITIES ARE LIKELY. THIS WILL LEAD TO WHITEOUT CONDITIONS... MAKING TRAVEL EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. DO NOT TRAVEL. IF YOU MUST TRAVEL... HAVE A WINTER SURVIVAL KIT WITH YOU. IF YOU GET STRANDED... STAY WITH YOUR VEHICLE.

The good news is that Peter made it back mid-afternoon from his trip, having been keeping an eye on things. It meant cutting short his visits with friends, but now he and we and the cats are all in the house and accounted for as the bad weather approaches.

Quick job update

The director of the Kilbourn Public Library just called to offer me a full-time library position. What this means is that I will be picking up twelve to fifteen extra hours in addition to the bookmobile responsibilities she had already offered. And THAT means benefits should be available after a trial period -- including health insurance and pension.

Yay!

Enjoy!

My friend Steve Flower turned me onto this video, and I hope you enjoy it. Be sure to listen all the way to the end to hear the amazing twist on Toto's Africa.



This a capella group formed in 1996 at Indiana University. As members of the original crew graduated, new guys joined. They take their name, Straight No Chaser, from a composition by Thelonius Monk.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Three signs [UPDATED]

Three signs that winter has arrived on Berry Road:

1) The cats began using the litter box.
2) The pond down the road where Tom's ancestors built the first farmhouse in the 1840s is frozen over.
3) Juncoes are back in the trees and around the feeders.

A fourth, more personal sign: Michael has on his long underwear bottoms. (I know, Kristin: Ewww!)

We are expecting a major winter storm to move through beginning tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon and lasting into Wednesday evening. Predictions of 9 to 14 inches (22.9 cm to 35.6 cm) of snow accumulating before it ends. This is to be followed by a major drop in temperatures, lows of 0 (-17.7 C) for a couple of days and highs of about 4 (-15.5 C).

So the railroad lucked out with closing up just in time to avoid being shut down by the weather anyway. Poor Tom agreed to be the snow plow dude over there this winter, though, so he will be running around with the Bobcat for hours later in the week. I'll have to cook up some spicy Texas red chili to thaw him out.

Peter, who went to visit friends in Ohio and Tennessee, had planned to drive back up here Wednesday, which will be during the worst of the storm. We will see what he decides to do. He is scheduled to work at the bank Thursday afternoon ...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

And that's that

Today was my "last" day working for the R&GN Railway. I put that in quotes because, although this was the last day of running trains and having the shop open, I will be going over a day or two each week at least until the end of the year taking care of final bits and pieces. And I get paid through the end of December (supposedly).

The last weeks (months?) at the railroad have been difficult because of a lot of internal bickering and so on, and I am sooo happy to be leaving that behind. I know that there will be some of that stuff at the library, because people work there, too. But I am hoping it will not be as venomous as things sometimes became at the railway recently.

So I am hanging up my engineer's cap and packing away my bib overalls for a while. I am thinking of wearing funny ties when working at the library. Not outrageous, but humorous. After all, I will be known for something -- it might as well be for something fun!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dear Miss Manners

I saw this interesting letter and response in Miss Manners, and I thought some of you may find it helpful if you find yourselves targets of insults of any kind.
Dear Miss Manners:

My partner and I adopted a child three years ago. He has become a happy, silly, active, loving child.

When we were going through the adoption process, the topic of being a "conspicuous family" was discussed. As two men with a child, we fall into that category.

Several times over the last couple of years, we have been verbally attacked. Twice we have been in a grocery store when someone informed us that we were not a "real family." On one of these situations, we were even told that we were condemned to hell!

Another time, when I was having breakfast out with our son, I was discussing children with a woman who was there with two of her own. The conversation was casual and amiable. When I mentioned "my partner" in the conversation, she started shouting at me, "You're evil! You are doing that child a great injustice!"

Our son's birth mother was a heroin and cocaine user during her pregnancy. She had the presence of mind to realize she couldn't take care of him and chose us as his adoptive parents.

We didn't decide to adopt to "save" a child, but the fact is, we will probably be able to give our son a much better life than if he had stayed with his birth mother.

How do we react to these people?

A gentleman of Miss Manners's acquaintance was once subjected to a barrage of unwarranted insults. Outraged on his behalf, she asked why he did not trouble to defend himself.

His reply (and please forgive the inelegance for the sake of vividness) was: "If someone is throwing up on you, you get out of the way. You do not stay around to examine what is coming up."

There is nothing you can say to people who, whatever they may think, see fit to hurl crude insults at you, even in front of your son.

A stiff "I'm sorry you feel that way" is all you can utter before turning your back.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Flaky

snowing

We don't expect any accumulation, but we have had snow showers fairly steadily all morning. Flurries tomorrow and then clear over the weekend for our last trains.

We hope!

Off to the library later for volunteering. Just a few more weeks of that and then -- WORK!!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Letters, we get letters ...

Recently in our little piece of rural Wisconsin, one of the local governments had something going on that seemed a bit fishy to some people. No need to go into details (which would be meaningless to anyone not from here anyway), but it led to a couple of irate letters to the editor of the local newspaper. Then it turns out that the author of one of the letters used someone else's name [an important local name, I guess] in writing the letter, and then this someone-else apparently wound up getting nasty phone calls about a letter that this someone-else never wrote.

Much ado about nothing all that important. But it did move the poor editor of the paper to issue an apology and to point out that in a country that prides itself on free speech and a free press, (1) people need not be afraid to use their own name when they write to express an opinion , and (2) people should not be personally harassed for expressing that opinion in the letters to the editor column. Those with opposing points-of-view are invited to write (over their own name) expressing said points-of-view, which will then be published in the paper.

Actually, around here the letters to the editor often move beyond expressing an opinion on an issue and cross the line into badmouthing and insulting other letter writers on a personal level. This becomes particularly distasteful when people drag God into the middle of it, and I often choose not to read the letters to the editor for a few weeks until all that foolishness has played itself out. It crops up periodically, of course, and it can be pretty vile. But one consequence of free speech is that people have a right to say vile things. On the other hand, a consequence of free will is that I get to choose what I will expose my fragile brain to when I peruse the newspaper.

One of the wise principles of Twelve Step programs is what is called "restraint of tongue and pen." (These days I would add "and of e-mail.") I often compose letters to the editor, but I rarely see any reason to mail them.

Seriously

This time of year there can be lots of hassles -- long lines, hard-to-find gifts, lack of ideas for what to buy, tight money having to stretch for extra expenses, travel, and on and on and on. We can feel like we have to deal with too much and want a break.

But take a moment today to think about something that is a problem for some people year-round. Today is World AIDS Day. (You can click on that for more information.) Thought by many people to be a problem for gays when it first appeared, AIDS has become a disease and on-going tragedy especially for women and children.

I have several friends who are living with HIV, and I have lost some friends to the disease. I ask a prayer for them today, and for the many suffering throughout the world.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cow and cat

When John was here last month, he and Tom went shopping one night and brought me this Christmas candy-pooping cow. Here Sundance ignores it while Tom tries to get her to look. [Push the small arrow at the lower left of the frame.]


video
What can I say?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Santa Trains

The railroad closes down for the winter after the last train on December 6. The last two weekends before we close, Santa is there to visit with kids. We survived the first weekend without any casualties, although Santa found his suit to be very warm! Tom, on the other hand, was conductor today, poor man. It was cold and damp with spits of snow for a while this morning. It was a very slow day -- four out of six trains carried just one family group each, one carried only volunteers and the last carried 9 passengers -- six of whom were freebies.

Oh, well!


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanskgiving in Three Acts (with apologies to Hercule Poirot and Dame Agatha Christie)

ACT ONE: Tom gets up early to prepare the turkey and five quarts of stuffing. He discovers that we do not have chicken broth. Michael notes that we do have lots of vegetable broth. Tom points out that he does not use vegetable broth for the stuffing. Michael finds chicken bouillon cubes. Tom admits that he could use them, but it would involve getting water and he does not have time to drill a well to get the water.

Michael wonders out loud why we are going to have five quarts of stuffing when only five people will be at dinner. Tom explains that he loves stuffing. If necessary, he will cook four quarts for the dinner and cook the rest tonight after the meal. Michael notes that Tom plans to use all three of the round, covered Pyrex bowls for the stuffing. Tom finds Michael another baking/serving dish for the green bean casserole.

Michael asks when the turkey will come out of the oven so he can bake said casserole. Or should he plan to use the microwave? Tom explains that he will need the microwave for the last hour before the meal is served to make the five quarts of stuffing. The regular oven will have the turkey and the acorn squash baking in it. Finally the boys realize that the green beans can go on the lower shelf in the oven, and the turkey will come out of the oven a half hour before dinner anyway, leaving ample time for the beans.

Michael says he plans to go to Reedsburg and then come home, sweep and vacuum and set the table. Tom mentions that he has cleaned his bathroom and suggests that Michael clean his, something Tom implies (by stating it outright) that Michael does not do often enough. Michael observes that he cleaned his bathroom four days ago because Tom was having a meeting at the house on Sunday. He also mentions that the toilet gets very rusty very fast because of the well -- what, we already have a well? -- water.

Michael politely does not mention that Tom will probably leave the door to his bedroom open so that guests who visit his bathroom will see that he has not made his bed or put his clothes away since the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Sundance looks back and forth in perplexity while Cassidy snores on Michael's bed. Peter sleeps soundly in his own room, having reportedly been up all night. He set his alarm so that he will be up in time to eat with the rest of us at one o'clock.

Michael gets dressed and goes to St. John's in Reedsburg while Tom decides he can make chicken broth by using the vegetable broth, chicken bouillon and water. When he puts the stuffing into the Pyrex bowls, he discovers he has only made enough to fill two of them, leaving the third bowl for Michael's beans.

Sundance heaves a sigh of relief and goes to get into bed with Cassidy.

Peter sleeps on.

Interlude.

ACT TWO: Tom's turkey got done about an hour and a half sooner than expected. Michael vacuumed the carpets and steamed part of the floor. He cleaned the bathroom and put out clean towels. Michael asked Tom if he should put one leaf into the table. Tom said yes and opened up the one at his end of the table. Michael began to set the table and Tom said, "Do we want to put on a tablecloth?" Michael took the dishes off the table and suggested a tablecloth that was in the buffet, but Tom remembered one that was in the basement that would match the napkins better. Michael did not roll his eyes heavenward, no matter what you may hear. So they went to the basement and looked through bins until noticing the box sitting on top of everything and labeled "Table Linens." And there it was.

Michael put the table cloth on the table and straightened it out so that it was even. Tom said we did not need the extra leaf. So they took the tablecloth off the table and removed the leaf. They put the tablecloth back on, but now it was way long. They folded it up and found a way to more or less fit the table. Michael went to get the dishes and Tom decided the tablecloth needed ironing. Michael mumbled something unimportant and Tom got the iron. After wondering why the iron wasn't working, Tom thought maybe it was broken. Michael suggested that it might be plugged in but was not turned on. And so it came to pass. Tom ironed the tablecloth.

Michael set the table with the new napkins and napkin holders, plates, salad plates, silver, water glasses and wine glasses (for the sparkling grape juice -- no imbibers in this particular crowd).

And on and on and on.

Tom went to wake Peter who hadn't decided if he was getting up or not.

Michael made the casserole and put it in the oven with the Tom's acorn squash and the turkey (being warmed). Then he began work on the salad.

Interlude

ACT THREE: Tom decides Peter is not getting up, so he and Michael remove Peter's place setting and move stuff around to make more room.

Five minutes later, Peter gets up.

Michael and Tom re-set the table, replacing Peter's place setting and rearranging chairs.

Jim and Adela arrive bearing gifts -- a snow man candy dish that plays a song when you pick up the lid, a pillar candle holder (which they seem to think is the base of the candy dish) and a bottle of Shea butter shower soap.

Okaaay. Michael gives them the Christmas bell ornament he had made for them.

Dinner is excellent. Tom's turkey and stuffing and acorn squash are a hit. Michael's salad is excellent and no one dies from eating the green bean casserole. We have Tom's homemade cranberry sauce and Peggy's orange-cranberry sauce to top it all off. The razzleberry pie is wonderful as always. Conversation is non-controversial. So non-controversial that Adela can barely stay awake. After giving up on stifling her yawns, she gets Jim up and they head home.

Time to do the dishes.

And to all a good night.

See, we made it through the day with no murders after all!

We will survive!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Snowing ...

Well, rain mixed with snow when I was driving home from my Baraboo meeting. The kind of night where all light is absorbed into the darkness, it looks like your headlights aren't on at all unless you put them on bright, and then all you can see is rain and snow streaming toward you.

But I made it home safely and Peter has made it home safely from work. Now to see if Tom gets home safely from the Wellness Center, and we and the cats can hunker down in the warmth and dryth of the house and wait for morning. The weather report calls for this "wintry mix" to last off and on all night, but it should be over by breakfast and stay above freezing until tomorrow night.

And best of all, no accumulation!

We are three inches behind on snow from last year and about the same behind the average.