Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cats and books

If a dog jumps in your lap, it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same thing, it is because your lap is warmer.
- Alfred North Whitehead

Sundance and Cassidy are American Short Hair (ASH) tabbies. Since last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, I guess they figure the next six weeks (Lent) belong to them. But then again, they pretty much assume all time belongs to them. I believe this is something that ASH tabbies share with all other cats.

One of my writing projects is a collection of short stories about a cat who belongs to (or owns, depending on point of view) the prior of a monastery. The cat's name is Gamaliel, and I guess he is probably an American Short Hair. Although I am not sure the monastery is in America.

So far I have two stories completed and a third one almost done. They are not mysteries, just stories. And they are stories for adults, I suppose, although not adult stories, of course.

If I get enough stories together, I will eventually publish a little book. I'm not sure how many I need.

I am also writing a collection of quirky short stories about a little town called Penultimate, Wisconsin.

Writing stories is hard for me. I do fairly well with descriptions, with setting a scene, with the use of words. But plotting is difficult, and a short story better have a plot. You can't just ramble around getting nowhere.

Because of the Flat Matthew project -- which will come to an end in about a week -- I have outlined a small book about the real Matthew and his day as a volunteer at the railroad. It would be a souvenir book suitable for children that would explain a lot about how the railway works. Now I have to see if John and Judi will approve. If not, I suppose I can do the same thing but with an imaginary character. It would be more fun with Matt, though, because we could get pictures of him interacting with the adults on the staff. (I figure then everyone whose picture is in it will think they have to buy one!)

Meanwhile, I am waiting to get my copy of the spring issue of Spiritual Life, which will contain one of my articles.

Fortune's fool

Last week I saw a program on superstition in America, and it was a bit unnerving. Seems that over half of Americans have some belief in things like astrology and such. (We all know Nancy Reagan consulted one before approving President Reagan's schedule, and she defended the practice when the news came out. FDR was afraid of the number 13 and would get upset if someone lit three cigarettes on a match.) I wonder about the statistic, though, because I think lots of folks read their horoscope for fun and not much else. Of course, we do have all those lottery people playing their lucky numbers every day -- the vast majority of whom never win the jackpot, of course.

At any rate, last night we wound up going for Chinese food. My horoscope for the month of March says, "You'll be dancing a jig all the way to the bank this month, when an unexpected windfall comes your way."

Well, any windfall would certainly be unexpected. Tom said maybe the Chinese government will decide that everyone should read my book and will buy a billion copies. Not holding my breath on that one!

Then both of us got the same fortune in our cookies: Your talents will be recognized and suitably rewarded.

Which sounds good until you think about it. Maybe my talents will be recognized as not so hot and the reward will be likewise crummy.

Tom said it reminded him of a story about a soldier in General Sherman's army who was hauled before the general for some infraction. The soldier was clearly terrified, and Sherman tried to calm him down by saying, "Don't worry. You'll get justice."

To which the solider said, "That's why I'm worried."

I had a clasmate at Marylake and in San Antonio named Ed Beachum. He used to say, "I don't care what I get, as long as it's not what I deserve."

So it's probably a good thing I'm not superstitious, huh?

BTW, did you know that 2009 has three months with a Friday 13th? February, March and November. Not that I checked or anything!

On the other hand, the first Friday 13 brought us the lovely Riley Rae, so for the Dodd clan it must be a lucky day.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Noni (Blalock) Ham recently got me to join Facebook. I don't know if that is the cause of it, but now I am getting all sorts of things from similar social network sites trying to get me to join up. My favorite email came today, assuring me that my ex was looking for me.

My ex?

Who, the Catholic Church?

Some of these things are so wonderfully not true that I can't help but laugh.

People do manage to track me down. (I used to track people down myself when I worked at the law office.) Two guys from Michigan State phoned me in the past year, including a former roommate I had not seen since he and his wife unexpectedly visited the monastery at Marylake in 1974. I'm not sure how those guys found me this time, but another roommate, John Przybysz has kept track pretty well. (In fact, he visited me just about everywhere I have lived except Wisconsin Dells.) Getting my email address shouldn't be too hard, but the phone number would be a challenge since I don't have a land line listed in my name. Of course, if you call up the Carmelites and say you want to reach me, they have all the info in their directory.

Today another friend tracked me down because she found the book online. Now if only that means she bought one ... (I just checked my royalties account, and someone did buy one today.)

Anyway, just to let you know: If someone calls up claiming to be my ex and wanting to know where I am, you never heard of me.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

One of those days

We are having one of those weather patterns called a wintry mix. The morning was clear and cool, but around noon it clouded over. Since then we have had sleet, snow, freezing rain ...

The forecast has changed several times in the last twenty-four hours: up to an inch of ice! No, make that five to eight inches of snow! No, make that a wintry mix! No, make that all rain! No, make that anybody's guess!

My day started at the Lake Delton Clinic where I had gone in to give blood for lab work. For some reason it took two nurses several tries to get a vein. Two pokes in my left arm and they gave up. Then a poke in my right and she just kept digging around under the skin until it went in. Not particularly painful but not what you want to go through before you've been allowed to eat breakfast or even have a cup of coffee!

With the weather so weird, I called the library to say I was not coming in this afternoon. I don't do icy streets! Charlotte told me to stay home, make a pot of chili and read a book. That's a librarian after my own heart!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

More books

I spent much of the day finishing up work on my next book. This is one that I doubt anyone in the family will be interested in at all, but it should be of some interest to the Carmelites. When it is ready, I will let you know so that anyone who wants the Complete Works of Michael Dodd can pick up a copy.

This one is about a sixteenth-century Carmelite who was a big friend of St. Teresa but very controversial within the Order. In fact, he was kicked out back in 1592. In 1999 -- more than four centuries later -- the superiors in Rome issued a formal Declaration of Rehabilitation. I'm sure it made his day!

Anyway, I found an old portrait of him and Tom is using it to make a cover design for the book. It is looking pretty good, better than the original in fact. I'll post that, too, when it is done.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Great news

I just got this email from Dave Simerson, the head of operations at the railway:

Hi Folks,

I just received this over the wire and felt that since “you” have put your blood, sweat and funds behind the R&GN you should share in the good news immediately. It has taken a while but here in our 20th year we have now earned a spot in Wisconsin History as a Preservation Society.

The amendment to our present bylaws will be explained in a thorough letter to all the members to be voted on during our April Membership Meeting. It will allow for an orderly disillusionment of our corporations assets to other “like” facilities in the State of Wisconsin if and when that may become necessary…hopefully NEVER.

Being affiliated with the State Historical Society opens doors to folks helping us preserve our historical documents, photos, books, etc. that are now frankly in need of professional organization and care. There are even funds available to air condition and heat the library to help save the physical books from further damage due to humidity. Matching funds are also available for training, communications and in some cases restoration of buildings. Also, the Historical Society advertises from time-to-time events and special places of interest for tourism destinations. Not to mention, just having the affiliation as part of description on applications for grants and corporate donation will be an asset as well.


Dave Simerson

This is a good incentive for Tom and me to get to work on our project to have kiosks around the property explaining the history of the place and the function of various buildings.

Dave and all those who have worked so hard to make this a reality deserve a big congratulations. It is an official recognition of their commitment to preserving a part of Wisconsin history.

All politics is local

This story is sadly true.

A Baraboo City Council member, who is running for Mayor in the April election, has admitted that four or five times since the first of the year he has been shoplifting cigars from a local business and selling them to friends and family in order to raise money to buy gas.

It's just a misdemeanor, so there is no provision in the law for removing him from office. And he intends to continue his run for mayor.

I'm not sure that's the kind of creative fund raising we are really looking for in our government leaders.

But hey! He's not planning to raise taxes.

More on Damien et alia

Someone sent me a link to a blog about Fr. Damien. Click here if you are interested.

I was interested to see that a Carmelite, Blessed Nuno, will be among the ten people canonized at that time. He was a fourteenth century Portuguese military hero who helped establish Portugal's independence. After his wife died, became a brother in the Order. I imagine he is remembered more for his military exploits than as a Carmelite, judging from the statue pictured there on the side. The main reason I remember him, though, is that his feast day is April 1 -- Justin's birthday.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A message from Mama

From the email file:
Your story about the cat tripping you reminded me of a story I read in a church bulletin.

It seems at an evening church service on the West Coast an usher was trying to keep a dog out of the building. The preacher was already preaching when the door opened and a couple came in. The usher kicked at the dog that came in with them and kicked the lady on the shin. Even tho she was hurting pretty badly she said, "I'm sorry we are late but we are from out of town".

(As far as I know that's the end of the story). I wish I knew how to write on your blog because I think lots of people would get a laugh out of this. I know I did.



We had hoped to see John, Judi and Matthew at the railroad show, but the weather prevented it. Judi sent us an email, though, saying that Matthew's class had looked up the Flat Matthew blog and enjoyed it. It is the only one that they know about on the internet.

On other follower notes, I got orders for three books today from monasteries. So a bit of business there.

On the other hand, a friend told me he finds the book heavy going. I am not surprised. He likes to read thriller adventure-type novels, and mine is pretty slow-moving and low key. So if any of you other folks are finding yourselves dozing over the pages, know that you are not alone!

Kirstin told me she couldn't pronounce half the words in the description online, but she was good enough to buy one anyway. That's family loyalty!

Father Damien

VATICAN CITY – A 19th-century Belgian priest who ministered to leprosy patients in Hawaii will be declared a saint Oct. 11 at a Vatican ceremony presided over by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Rev. Damien de Veuster's canonization date was set Saturday during a meeting between Benedict and cardinals at the Apostolic Palace.De Veuster will be canonized along with three other people, the Vatican said.

In July, Benedict approved a miracle attributed to the priest's intercession, declaring that a Honolulu woman's recovery in 1999 from terminal lung cancer was the miracle needed for him to be made a saint. He was beatified — a step toward sainthood — in 1995 by Pope John Paul II.
Born Joseph de Veuster in 1840, he took the name Damien and went to Hawaii in 1864 to join other missionaries of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Nine years later he began ministering to leprosy patients on the remote Kalaupapa peninsula of Molokai island, where some 8,000 people had been banished amid an epidemic in Hawaii in the 1850s.

The priest eventually contracted the disease, also known as Hansen's disease, and died in 1889 at age 49.

The Vatican's saint-making procedures require that a miracle attributed to the candidate's intercession be confirmed in order for him or her to be beatified. Damien de Veuster was beatified after the Vatican declared that the 1987 recovery of a nun of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary was a miracle. The nun recovered from an illness after praying to Damien. After beatification, a second miracle is needed for sainthood. The Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints said Audrey Toguchi's 1999 recovery from lung cancer defied medical explanation, and in July, Benedict agreed. Toguchi, too, had prayed to Damien.
You may wonder why I am posting this, but Father Damien is one of my favorite characters. When I was confirmed in the Catholic Church, as was customary I added the name of a saint to my own name. This was not a legal name change and I doubt anyone much even knew it, but I took the name of Damien. When I entered the Carmelites, there were already so many Michael's, for a while it looked like I would have to change my name, in which case, I could have become Brother (later Father) Damien, too.

I was fascinated by the story of this man who had the courage to minister to lepers and then became one himself. It struck me as a great imitation of Jesus, who Christians believed loved all suffering people so much that he became human himself to save the whole world.

Bonnie Yarbrough, by the way, for some reason remembered this about me, as she reminded me a few years back. Whenever she referred to me in a blog she kept, in order to preserve my anonymity, she would call me Father Damien.

Anyway, Damien took on added importance several years ago for a group of Catholic brothers I knew in Washington, DC who had taken on the care of AIDS patients at a time when we knew little about that disease and it was very frightening. People thought you might get AIDS just by touching an AIDS patient or breathing the same air, and many who were suffering were thrown out of their homes by frightened families. The brothers took them in and tended them with a truly Christ-like care. Later they were joined in this project by Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her nuns. The Carmelites in Washington sometimes said Mass for them at their small residence. They placed their whole ministry under the patronage of Damien of Molokai.

So I am sure it is a special joy to them -- and none of them ever contracted AIDS, by the way -- to have Damien's sanctity recognized.

I survived

We survived the Mad City Railroad Show. The weather was lousy on Saturday, but Sunday was nice and we had the best weekend ever in terms of sales. So it was a great success in that regard.

While I spent all my time at the cash register, Tom helped greet people and pass out flyers and keep watch for shoplifters. (Not so much intentional, but with little kids picking up toys and wandering, it is always possible for something to find its way into little pockets by accident.) He had some time to wander around the show a little -- I didn't get to do much of that -- and took some shots with Flat Matthew. He also, as I discovered this morning, bought himself another little train -- N scale.

Here are some pictures of the new train running around and warming up on the table in his office.

Sundance thought the train was a new cat toy and kept trying to swat it off or crunch it. To give you an idea of the scale, here is the engine from his downstairs layout beside a tape measure.

About this time last year, after seeing the snazzy layouts some folks had at the Show, Tom decided he wanted to recreate a scene of downtown Kilbourn City (as Wisconsin Dells was then called) from the late 19th century. Here is what he has done as of now. He has carved out rocks (from styrofam insulation) to look like the dells and other formations that made the place a famous tourist spot even then, showing the Wisconsin River flowing through town(eventually it can be made to look like river water, not just black), under railroad bridges. He has been making trees for the hillsides and trying to get a realistic looking ground cover. He has some buildings put together, but hasn't really done the town layout yet.

This is a project very much still in progress, but it actually looks impressive. Tom is an artist, having inherited that from both his parents. The tricky part is that this is all on a big piece of plywood in the basement, and I don't think it can easily be brought upstairs. So hardly anyone ever gets invited to the dirty basement corner to see it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Who knows?

There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
- W. Somerset Maugham

I just ask that you remember this while reading my book.

It is 9:00 a.m.and 4 degrees out (-15 C). We are a bit late getting out of the gate this morning. And Sundance tried to kill me last night by running under my feet when I was on my way to bed. I fell -- not on her, lucky cat! -- and landed on my hands and knees, bumping (slightly) my head on the bed. Fortunately not even a bruise on my head, but it did jars the old Dodd joints.

And then she looked at me like I was trying to hurt her! She's all cuddled up in the Snuggie on the sofa now, so I made sure to pet her until she purred. I guess we've made up.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Flat Matt

Kristin mentioned that I should post the pictures of Flat Matthew. This is one from today when he went with me to volunteer at the library. He is slipping behind some books to see if he can find one I am missing.

If you want to see more pictures and read all about his adventures, as I said, you can feel free to visit the blog version at this site. The print version of the journal of his activities is up to 12 pages. We got him a week ago. Another two and half to go ...

BTW, Matthew's real mother who has been following Flat Matt's adventures online emailed us that he has a more exciting life than she does.

Here is a picture of the real (Round) Matthew and his parents, John and Judi, working at the railroad this past summer.

A heads up

Friday, Saturday and Sunday Tom and I will be helping staff the Riverside & Great Northern Railway's booth at the Mad City Model Railroad Show and Sale in Madison. Friday is set-up day, the show runs Saturday and Sunday and Sunday evenign it all has to come down. This is at the Alliant Energy Center, the big convention and meeting place in the state's capital. We can expect 90,000 square feet of the Midwest's biggest and most beautiful model train layouts in a variety of scales, classic toy trains, and historical exhibits and railroad videos.

The model trains layouts are amazing. Some of them have flowing water, fire departments putting out fires with smoking buildings, cars running around and trolleys as well as the trains.

Kids can help build a giant wooden train layout or run a model train. There are about 300 vendors there, mostly for serious model railroaders and collectors. We take almost our whole museum shop down. I understand it is very popular with the little kids because we are basically the one place carrying toys for children and not for grownups. (The grown-ups' model train engines and cars cost several hundred dollars apiece. We actually have toys for under three bucks.) Also we have the Thomas the Tank Engine stuff.

Alongside the R&GN booth, the Dells Live Steamers and Model Engineers Club sets up one of their 7 and a half inch Grand Scale models. Seven and a half inches may not sound that big, but it is large enough to carry fully grown men -- and lots of those guys are FULL GROWN -- for rides. The Dells Live Steamers and the R&GN have a bit of overlap in membership, and there is a 7 1/2 inch rail at the R&GN for the private use of the Steamers. These are the sort of people who show up with a steam locomotive in the back of their pickup.


Anyway, my real point was that Tom, Flat Matthew and I will be pretty busy for the weekend, so there may not be anything posted until this is all over.

No accounting

There has been a small surge in book sales the last couple of days. I'm not sure where all of them are coming from, but at least one is to a Canadian and one to an Italian. (Both friends, naturally.) I think this makes the book an international seller. Not best-seller, of course, but even so.

I'll take what I can get.

And my sales chart looks nothing like that snazzy illustration, either.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Flake out, already!

Well, we got some snow but nothing to get too excited about.

When I was in New England, every year right before the first measurable snowfall hit, the local news stations would go insane --constant coverage of the upcoming winter storm, always advertised as maybe the storm of the century with ominous pictures of previous such storms of the century. (So, tell me, exactly how many storms of the century can any one century have?)

They got away with this because, as you have probably noticed, weather forecasting -- for all the doppler this and lazer-team that -- is a far from exact science. And those handy percentages always provide some wiggle room. A 90% chance of disastrous flooding is, after all, not a 100% chance. They didn't exactly promise it would flood (or blizzard or whatever), did they?

This provides a handy way out when the dreaded storm (as it almost always does) turns out not to be such a big deal. Then the people that networks pay somewhat big bucks to tell us what is going to happen, get to earn their somewhat big bucks telling us why it didn't happen. [In this they strongly resemble political pundits, but we won't go there.]

I guess it didn't happen because they were wrong.

Now I am very grateful that they are much better at these things than anyone could be a few decades back. Especially when we are into tornado-type events in the neighborhood, I really like seeing exactly where that dark and dangerous red spot is on the map. So I want to give credit where credit is due.

But when they say up to eight inches and it is like maybe one? C'mon, guys!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The best laid shemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley

I planned out a half dozen or so adventures for Flat Matthew, and today we had planned to take him on a history lesson. We would start with Tom's stuff from his Vietnam Green Beret days and the shell fragment from the Civil War Battle of Vicksburg where his great-grandfather was wounded. Then we would visit a nearby cemetery where the only known American Revolutionary War veteran in Wisconsin is buried, then the cemetery where Tom's great-grandfather is buried and finally end up at Belle Boyd's tomb in Spring Grove Cemetery on the other edge of town. We would combine this with a trip to the post office for me to mail a couple of books and pick up stamps for a mailing to the Carmelite monasteries about the book, and then go to the library to return a bunch of books.

I went off to Reedsburg for an early meeting, planning to head out with Tom and Flat Matt when I got back about 10:30.

That was the plan. But Rich needed to take a car to Madison and needed someone to go along with him and give him a ride back. So Tom went with him -- taking Flat Matt for a spontaneous Mad City adventure -- and I took care of the other errands. I got the postcards printed, labeled, stamped and mailed out; went shopping at Walmart to pick up supplies for Tom to cook tomorrow (in case we get snowed in and can't get over there); and made dinner. I thought I would clean my room up if we do get snowed in. I have piles of papers and things lying around with research and stuff for projects I am working on. But I got started this afternoon and made a good dent in the mess. There is still some to do tomorrow, but the back of it is broken.

When Tom got back just before dinner, he said they had not managed to do anything with Flat Matt, so that was a bust. They did buy some stuff at an Asian market, though, so we are now set for all sorts of treats down the road.
And yes, the title of this post is the original version from "To a Mouse" by Robert Burns. [Full title, for you true trivia freaks: To a Mouse. On turning her up in her nest with the plough, November 1785]

Monday, February 16, 2009


Today was a sunny, nice day and I had recovered enough to go with Tom to do some Walmarting. As we were loading the truck, I said, "I know I will be sorry for saying this, but unless something changes, it looks like all the talk about another record-breaking snow total for the winter is going to turn out to be a lot of brou-ha-ha. Of course, now that I said it, tomorrow we will get snow."

"Yeah," Tom said, "about eight inches."

So tonight on the weather report they said a winter storm watch is in effect starting tomorrow afternoon and into Wednesday. Our area may only get five to six inches, but some places in the state will get close to eight inches.

I knew I should have kept my mouth shut!

I need chicken soup

Saturday night I came down with what Daddy would call the creeping crud. There is a bug making the rounds up here. Tom was knocked out by it last week, and Friday in the middle of dinner, I got it. Lots of stomach problems and associated trips to the bathroom. Dizziness, nausea, low-grade headache. Strange semi-feverish dreams that kept waking me up all night. After a very bad Saturday night's sleep -- even the cats stayed away because I was tossing and turning so much -- I wound up spending most of Sunday in bed or dozing on the couch. I could eat practically nothing and just sat around moping.

Anyway, since I didn't blog, I thought I would steal part of Tom's post about Urban Chickens. Enjoy!

Urban Chicken

When Teddy and David started raising backyard chickens in Austin a decade ago, I thought they were just, well, strange. Having spent enough time around chickens to be tired of them for life, I still think that, to be truthful.

But strange or not, it turns out that Teddy and David [Michael's note: Teddy is Tom's former sister-in-law. She and her husband David live in Texas.] were the vanguard of the "Urban Chicken" movement, part of the "sustainability" movement.

If the amount of public comment back and forth is any indication, Baraboo, our county seat, is the latest community to become embroiled in a controversy over urban chickens. Baraboo bans chicken coops, apparently, and folks who want to keep a few chickens in the backyard want that changed. I've been watching the letters to the editor for the last couple of weeks, and the back and forth is starting to get heated. Not quite as heated as brawls over the schools, but heated enough to notice.

I'm a little taken aback. Not only was I completely unaware of the Urban Chicken movement, it never occurred to me that you couldn't raise a few chickens in your backyard in Baraboo, if you wanted to do so.

But Baraboo is just, well, strange, at least when it comes to urban animals.

I know that because the other letter to the editor in this morning's newspaper, signed by thirteen people, concerns the Baraboo ordinance allowing two dogs and two cats, with no exceptions or variations. The letter protests a decision by the City Council last week not to consider granting variances to the ordinance.

I'm not sure what variance was requested, but the letter points out that a family having three dogs and one cat or three cats and one dog are relegated to being scofflaws in Baraboo.

I understand, of course, the thinking behind an ordinance limiting the number of cats and dogs per household. A few people have no sense at all, and we've all read stories about the health department finding out that someone has been harboring eighteen cats in a one-bedroom apartment.

My alter-ego, Mischievous Tom, is tempted to write a letter to the News-Republic quoting Genesis 7:2, requiring Noah "of every clean animal, you shall take seven pairs ... and of every animal that is not clean, two, a male and its mate", and suggesting that the Baraboo City Council should look to God's law in determining the proper cat and dog limits.

With any luck, the letter would set the dogs to barking.
On the Urban Chicken question, I have no opinion at all, other than to note that I've been around chickens enough to know that I'll get my eggs from anywhere but my own chicken coop.
Actually, it is a relief to see letters to the editor about animals. At least I don't think anyone will accuse the chickens, cats and dogs of political chicanery.

But it's a small town. I could be wrong.

BTW, I woke up feeling much better this morning, although I am warned that the fatigue and touchy stomach make hang around for another day or so.

Vince asked about book sales. So far I seem to have sold about 20 (thanks to Kristin for her big order!). For more information, you can check my comment in response to Vince on the Valentine's Day post.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

Flat Matthew

Yesterday Flat Matthew arrived at our house to begin a stay of a few weeks.

Flat Matthew is part of a school project that our friend Matt is doing. Matt, about whom I have posted before, is the son of John and Judi out at the R&GN. His class just read a book about a character named Flat Stanley, a little boy who was smashed flat by a bulletin board and then went on to have adventures before getting back to normal. All the students had to create a flat version of themselves and mail it to someone out-of-state who would take it on adventures, take pictures and so on and then return it in a month. I assume they students will all then share what adventures the Flat Me's had.

Yesterday Flat Matthew arrived in the mail, and his main adventure was having his eyes glued back on. They had come loose in the mail. As it turns out, Round Matthew's father, John, was up here to do some work at the Riverside & Great Northern Railway. Tom had gone over to help out, and John came home and had dinner with us. After dinner, Tom glued Flat Matthew's eyes back while we all visited. We discussed what places we might take Flat Matthew and what he could do while he is with us.

Here is Flat Matthew sitting on the sofa with Cassidy and watching television. As you can see, Matthew may be flat, but Cassidy is fat!

This morning Flat Matthew got to meet all the dragons in my room and I think Tom is going to take him over to the railrod this afternoon. Part of the deal is that we have to keep a journal of all the places Flat Matthew goes and what he does. So we created a Flat Matthew blog for that purpose. If you want to keep track of what he is up to for the next few weeks, feel free to visit him at Flat Matthew.

I do remind you that we are doing this for a thrid grader, so take that into account if you do read about Flat Matthew's adventures. If you have any suggestions for things he can do, let me know!

Riley Rae

I know all the Dodds already know that Riley Rae -- daughter of Justin and Angie -- arrived just after midnight last night, but this is to let the handful of other readers in on the excitement. She weighed 7 pounds, 15.9 ounces. As far as I know, baby, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles are all doing fine.

PS -- The pileated woodpecker showed up at the bird feeder this morning, which I will take as another favorable sign.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Belle Boyd again

At the Friends of the Library meeting this afternoon, we were discussing attendance at special programs (lectures) sponsored by the Friends in the past. (Next month we have a guy coming to talk about passenger pigeons.) Apparently there are usually 30 to 40 people, but the record was for a presentation by a man who dressed as a Union soldier from the Civil War and talked about the experiences of the soldiers.

This made me think of Belle Boyd, the Confederate spy -- Cleopatra of the Secession -- who wound up dying unexpectedly in Wisconsin Dells in 1900 (it was still Kilbourn City in those days) and who is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery here. I asked if they had ever had a program about her.

Gisela Hamm, secretary of the Friends and involved in just about every other thing going on around here as far as I can tell, said that they had not, but she herself had written the brief article on Belle that was published in a local history. I explained that I had become interested in Belle after hearing a ghost story about her grave and had even made some notes for a one-woman play. Gisella got all enthused, told me I have to join the Dells County Historical Society and encouraged me to keep working on the play idea.

Another writing project that may have to come off the back burner ...

For more on Belle Boyd, click here.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Snow-Go the Winter Possum returns

To show that there are other things on my mind besides THE BOOK, here is a picture of the possum. It has been a while since he (or she or they or it) has been around. I don't know if it is the warmer weather or what. At any rate, he/she/it is scrounging around under the bird feeder where all the seeds and hulls have been scattered by our messy feathered friends.

When I went out on the deck to take this picture, Sundance came out, but she doesn't seem interested in the possum. She went to the other side of the deck and is surveying the snow for more interesting sights.


Well, the book is available at Click here to see it. Or you can go to and do a search for the title: Dark Night Murders. Either way, they don't yet have the picture of the cover up yet, but that is supposed to happen in the next week or so. The listing on Amazon went up much faster than I expected.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Lucy et alia

This morning we drove down to Watertown to meet up with Lucy and her friend Erin for breakfast. They are both part of the Windy City Rollers, a Chicago-based roller derby team, and in the winter they compete in speed skating events to stay in training. They won their race, which is not surprising.

Lucy is actually a pretty young woman -- reminds me of a brunette Kristin in many ways -- but her roller derby persona is aggressive. So that's what that picture is all about. In her real life, she is getting a graduate degree in public policy and will probably be in some sort of financial planning, assuming that the economy and governments ever recover enough to hire her after she gets out of school. For a number of years after she got her undergraduate degree, she worked as a union organizer. She has always been something of a jock -- having run track at the state level in high school and also was a Golden Gloves boxer.

All of Tom and Helen's kids are very bright, although the others don't seem to have done the sports thing. Rebecca is working on a doctorate at the divinity school at the University of Chicago -- clearly one of the finest schools in the nation. John is a law student at the University of Texas Law School. (Out of respect for you A&M fans, I won't say any more about that.) Peter graduated from St. John's last spring and is pondering his future even as we speak, I suspect.

After a nice breakfast and visit, Lucy and Erin went back to watch their teammates compete, and we headed back to the Dells, stopping along the way to do some shopping for ink cartridges for my computer, some books and shirts for Tom. We wandered around a large outlet mall at Johnson Creek, the weather being friendly. There were a lot of stores, but not much to interest us. Outlet malls seem to be mostly clothes and shoes, because the fashions change every year, Tom says. So most stores we just walked by. We did stop into a Bose speaker outlet, though, and were treated to a fantastic presentation on their home theater set-up. How nice was it? About $4,000 nice. (I don't think we will be getting one of those.)

As I say, it was a warmish day today, and we expect more warm days -- maybe even into the 50s! (10 C) -- later in the week. We also may have thunderstorms (tomorrow) and snow later in the week. So winter's not over, that's for sure.

Odd fact of the day: One of Lucy's classmates when she was in school was Sam Kass. He became a chef and eventually was hired by a Hyde Park family as their cook. When they moved into the White House last month, he went with them to continue as the personal chef for the Obamas. He's been in the news a lot because of his health-oriented meals. (And, according to Lucy, because he is good-looking. She shaved his head when they were in school, and that is still part of his look. I don't know if that will get her an inviation to dine at the First Table, though)

Friday, February 6, 2009


Okay, my book will probably not be available on for another week or two, but if you click on this link, it should take you to the e-store where it is now available.

A few things you should know.

1) The book costs $12.95, and the economy shipping will add three or so bucks to this cost. You can pay more and get it in just a couple of days, but that would basically double your total cost. I don't see why you have to be in any hurry over it, though. It is just a mystery story, after all!

2) To order it, you may have to create an account at CreateSpace (the e-store). I'm not sure about that, but I am reasonably sure it is safe. CreateSpace is a part of Amazon, so it should be the same as if you were to order it via Amazon when it becomes available there. And you have to pay by credit card either way. If you don't won't to fool with that for security reasons, let me know and I can arrange to get one to you myself. It may take a little while, but, like I say, there is no reason to be in a hurry.
BTW, if you do buy copies through the e-store, I get waaay more royalties than if you order it through Amazon later, but, of course, Amazon is the place where I am likely to sell a lot more copies and that is why it is great to be on their list.
3) When starts marketing it, they may sell it at a discount and you will probably be able to get it with free shipping when combined with other things, etc. So, again, if you are in no hurry, you may want to wait and see what they are going to offer. I will let you know on the blog as soon as I find out it is on the site.

4) There are a couple of minor typos in this version, but Tom suggested I have to publish it someday. So I am making it available now. At some point down the line I will insert any corrections that I have found or been told about. Feel free to let me know typos, but I don't plan to rewrite the book! If you think it needs to be changed totally, write the new one yourself. I will be happy to buy it when you publish it.

5) If you want to buy several (I don't know -- to punish people you don't like?), I can order them and get a better rate for you.

6) It is possible that a Catholic bookstore might decide to sell the book at their store, but the odds of you finding it in a bookstore are slim to nonexistent.

7) If you have any questions about all this let me know.

And, Mama and Daddy, the book is dedicated to you (and to the Discalced Carmelite family), so don't buy one. I will be sending you one as soon as I get some copies myself.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Stolen [Updated]

Tom posted this about the cats, and it comes with such good pictures and apt descriptions of their behavior that I just took the whole thing. (Sorry about the language, Mama.) BTW, in the first picture that is both cats by the deck door, Sundance inside and Cassidy outside. Sometimes they tag-team us this way.

[UPDATE: Tom told me I should put in an asterisk so as not to offend Mama, so this is now the revised version.]

Okay, the rest of this is Tom's:

I have a friend, now in his 80's, who once named his cats "D*mn Cat" and "Other D*mn Cat". I was in college at the time, and thought that was funny, even if I didn't quite get the joke.

I've since learned.

Michael and I have two cats named Sundance and Cassidy, aka "Skinny Cat" and "Fat *ss Cat". I raised them both since they were kittens. As cats go, they are fine cats -- affectionate, friendly, and reasonably energetic, given their age.

The cats are sisters and neither has known a day when the other wasn't underfoot. Neither, unfortunately, have Michael and I since we got the cats.

The cats spending their time sleeping, mostly, as all cats seem to do. In the summer, they go outside when they are awake during the day, skulking around and hunting mice, birds and small snakes.

The winter is another story. The cats spend most of their time indoors, and they get bored.

The cats play three games indoors.

Inside, Outside

The first is "inside, outside". The rules of this game are: (a) wait until the humans are sitting down, reading or watching television; (b) if you are inside, sit by the patio door and demand to go out; (c) if you are outside, sit by the patio door and demand to come in.


The second is "pounce". The rules of this game are: (a) wait until the other cat is doing something peaceful; (b) pounce on her.


The third is "immobilize". The rules of this game are: (a) find Michael and/or Tom sitting on the sofa; (b) sprawl all over him so he can't move; (c) magically increase your weight by a factor of five to make sure he knows you are there.

The three games are supplemented by other wonderful cat games, like "stick your behind in the guest's face", "lay on the book so he can't read", "decide it is time to get everyone up at five in the morning", and a host of variations.

I get it now. "Cassidy" and "Sundance" are just monikers. Their real names are "D*mn Cat" and "Other D*mn Cat".


A fire broke out this morning at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, but it was put out before spreading to other buildings or doing too much damage, according to early reports.

The 134-year-old cathedral is a couple of blocks from where I worked in downtown Chicago, and I sometimes went to Mass there. I used to walk by it almost every day.

A year or so back, the Catholic cathedral in Madison caught fire -- apparently arson -- and it was so severely damaged that they are having to tear it down and rebuild.

What's happening now

Monday Tom helped Rich work on some problems he and Peggy are having with their phone system, and Peggy kindly invited us for dinner. Rich bundled up and braved the sub-zero weather to grill some pork and beef, and we enjoyed a good time with them as usual.

Yesterday Debbie came by with her mom who had not seen the house. It gave me a chance to show Debbie the proof of the book and to talk a bit about the possible library job. She is on the Board over there, and she has already put in a good word for me. Her mother liked the house and was charmed by Cassidy, until we offered to let her take the cat home. Suddenly she decided she didn't need one all that much.

Debbie also left a copy of a DVD containing a movie made by the Tuesday Night Club ladies back in the late 40s or 50s, I guess, about the threat of the Soviet Union. It was a bit like watching a political announcement put together by Aunt Bea on the old Andy Griffith Show, but it showed a sense of creativity and humor, too. Her aunt (or great aunt?) had made it, and her mother featured in it as a child and her grandmother as one of the women working the collective farm. Apparently it has been selected as one of a series of films like this for inclusion in the Library of Congress.

Yesterday was also my friend Rick's birthday. I called and left a message. I hope he was out celebrating the big day.

This upcoming weekend, Lucy and a friend from Chicago will be in Watertown for some reason -- probably has to do with the roller derby. At any rate, we are driving down to meet them for brunch on Sunday. The weather forecast looks good at the moment for traveling.

While waiting for the latest proof of the book to arrive, I am doing some editing on what I expect to be the next one. That one will probably be of interest only to Carmelites, because it will contain a biographical sketch of a sixteenth century Spanish friar, the translation I did of a small treatise he wrote on melancholy and an article commenting on part of that work as well. I don't expect any of you to run out and buy it, except for Kristin who told me she will make a collection of all the books I publish. (You may want to reconsider that promise, sweetie.)

Otherwise, it is a bright sunshiny 2 degrees (-16 C) at midmorning.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Six more weeks

Sun Prairie (outside Madison) for some reason claims to be the Groundhog Capital of the World. Really? The whole world?

Anyway, their groundhog -- Jimmy -- apparently saw his shadow today, dooming those of us here in the Badger State to six more weeks of winter.

So far the winter has been cold, December had record-breaking snows, January was pretty dry and February has just begun. It doesn't seem all that bad, but then after last year, I guess it wouldn't. I must just be getting used to it.

Anyway, thanks a lot, Jimmy!