Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Another book

Another book is out there now, this one called Jerome Gratian: Treatise on Melancholy.

Tom designed the cover, based on a portrait of Gratian.

This book will probably appeal only to Carmelites and such folks, but if you want to order it, you can already get it at CreateSpace by clicking here. It will also be available on Amazon.com soon, but it may take a week or two to show up there. One blessing is that it is brief (80 pages) and costs $7.95.

Just so you know what it is about:
Jerome Gratian, also known as Jerome of the Mother of God, was chosen by St. Teresa of Avila to lead her Carmelite Reform, but he was at the center of divisions within that community.

Gratian came from a family of respected humanists who served as royal secretaries to King Philip II, and he left behind an extensive collection of his own works. These include accounts of his life, that of Teresa and of the early years of the Teresian reform, reflections on prayer and devotions and other topics of a theological and philosophical nature. Little of this is readily available in English translation. The small treatise translated in this volume, written in the form of a parody of religious legislation, was chosen because of its brevity and its humor.

Also included in this volume is a biographical sketch and a reflection on Gratian's positive teaching.
Like I say, unless you are going for a "complete works of Michael Dodd", you may want to pass this one by. I will understand! It probably mainly will make sense to nuns and priests and such people. Anyone who lives in a religious community will understand the humor.

I am getting close to finishing the writing of the book on Elijah, but judging from my experience with the first two books, it will probably be a month or so before it is available for purchase.

Eventually I will be publishing some short story collections and (I hope) another novel for a broader readership.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Monday, Monday

Really not much to report. Talked to Barry in Florida (he's still gloating about the weather), worked on the Elijah book, went shopping and banking, cooked enchiladas suizas for dinner. Tom and John inspected railroad tracks before coming for dinner. Tomorrow they will be out working in the rain, I guess, cleaning up something. I will be in Reedsburg in the morning but plan to put in some time at the store in the afternoon. The Gratian proof is due sometime tomorrow, and I will probably get that reviewed and (I hope) approved tomorrow evening. Then Wednesday I can get a mailing out.

See, I told you. Not much to report.

At least there was a new episode of The Big Bang Theory on tonight.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dusk descends but light unending shines through the night ...

Well, here is our front yard at 6:45 this evening. You probably can't tell, but the snow is pretty much a memory already. Of course, the forecast includes a possibility of more mid-week.

I put in some time at the store late this morning and then spent most of the afternoon working on my writing and getting caught up on laundry. My clothes are now clean and the Elijah book is looking about 80% done. Now I have to start pushing Tom to do a cover design for it.

He spent most of the day at the railroad but came home in time to grill chicken outside for dinner. This morning the grill was covered with two inches of snow, but now ... I will use the leftovers to make a chicken enchilada casserole for dinner tomorrow. John is supposed to be in town, and we will invite him to join us. Not everyone is big on Tex-Mex, of course, but we will see.

Instead of Botox ...

Sundance relaxes while pondering her cosmetic enhancement options.
Don't worry. The iron was cold.

Vote for Juan

Tom's youngest, John, is a law student at the University of Texas. (All you Aggies, try not to hiss!) He seems to be running for some student office -- I say seems to be, because his "campaign" is so funny that I can't tell if he is serious or not.

Tom thinks it is a real campaign, and since he was once a law student at the University of Chicago, I guess he knows how they operate. (Tom and Helen met as law students, and Helen's father is a [literally] world-famous law professor. So I guess John comes by this honestly.)

At any rate, this is one of the pictures he has posted. It is supposed to show that he will represent your interests even when wearing an apron, but I am not sure why he thinks that would be reassuring.

It would look better if he were holding a tray of brownies or something. Or a pizza. Or maybe he is about to bring in the tea, guys! After all, it is UT.

I'm dreaming of a white Fifth Sunday of Lent ...

That's our front yard this morning. It's only a couple of inches of snow, so that's not really so bad, I guess.

Last night we turned the lights off for Earth Hour, and about twenty minutes after we turned them back on, the power went off around here. At least we had the lamps out on the table already!

We haven't heard what caused it, but they had power back up and running in about forty-five minutes. They always tell you that their goal is to have it back within two hours, and mostly they manage that except when major storms knock power out all over the grid.

I guess this one may have been weather-related, although the snow wasn't that heavy and there was no wind. I suppose a tree branch somewhere was just waiting to fall.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

In the dark

The most beautiful service of the Catholic year for me was always the Easter Vigil. On Saturday night before Easter Sunday, after dark, the congregation assembles in the darkened and quiet church. The service begins with the building and blessing of a fire near the entrance of the church, and then a special large candle is lit and carried in silent procession into the still dark church. It is held aloft, an acclamation and a response are sung, and servers help carry light from that candle to the small candles held by all the people in the congregation. As the large candle is carried to the sanctuary, the light passes from candle to candle down the rows and soon the whole church glows in the light of the single light cast by all those candles. It symbolizes the light of Christ breaking forth to conquer the darkness of night and sin.
That image of the Paschal Candle on the side is one of the designs Tom did when he was working in the RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). He did a whole series of clip art images that he made avaialble for parishes to use in their bulletins and other literature.
Tonight we will participate in Earth Hour, turning off the electrical lights for an hour and sitting in the dark or in the light of candles and oil lamps like generations of Dodds and Mitchums and Durens and Broccolos and Kirks did before us.

It is a small thing, and this particular event has to do with awareness of our impact on the environment. (And there are those who point out that burning candles and oil lamps is just another way of polluting!) But for me it has echoes of the fact that the smallest light can still overcome the greatest darkness.

And that is something I need to remember all year long.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday follies

This morning I went over to the railroad and put in a few hours working on getting the museum store set up. We are still unpacking all the stuff that we took to the model train show in Madison last month, and we are supposed to be open to the public next weekend (April 4). It will get done, but it is one of those tasks where you basically just start and work your way outward in all directions until at some point you look around and realize it is all done. Not so much a start-here-and-go-there thing.

I will give some time to it again tomorrow. Tom may help, but he usually has other important things to do over there.

We had lunch at Culver's and Tom went back to the railroad. I did some grocery shopping and then worked away at the Elijah book in stops and starts. I am getting close to a finished first draft, and that is good.

Tom grilled pork chops outside, partly because the weather may not permit it tomorrow. The winter storm they were talking about keeps getting downgraded in the forecasts, and at this point we aren't expecting much.

Then we watched the movie Milk. I'm not always enthusiastic about serious message movies, but it was quite moving. (Sean Penn won an Oscar as Best Actor and Dustin Lance Black for Best Screenplay. Josh Brolin was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and he was excellent in what should have been a totally unsympathetic role.)

I am going to bed feeling chilled, although I took my temperature and am not running a fever. Maybe just too much sitting at the keyboard this afternoon and watching a long movie tonight.
And yes, I know there is nothing sci-fi in this post -- until now!

Thursday, March 26, 2009



Peggy called over about a couple of things this evening, and she invited us to come over for a bonfire. They have a big rock fire ring at their place, and they enjoy sitting out with a fire. It was brisk this evening, but not too cold to enjoy for a while.

It was a clear night with lots of stars out here in the country. We especially enjoyed it since we are expecting a winter storm late Saturday afternoon (this thing is originating in Texas, dudes) that will bring us maybe three inches of snow.

I know, I know. When will I ever stop talking about the weather ...

Energized [With an update]

The last couple of days I have piddled with the writing, but piddling doesn't get it done. Part of that was caused by a bit of anxiety over the delay with the Gratian book, which I really thought I would have had for sale about this time last week. Now that I know what the slow-up is, even though it is beyond my control, I feel better.
Update: The proof for the Gratian book shipped today. It should be in hand no later than Monday evening. So we're back on track!
And the last couple of days my energy has been taken up with the museum store job issue and my treasurer work for the District 19 meeting. The job issue overflowed into this morning because I wanted to write a letter to Dave to make sure that we are on the same page about the job description. After writing down my understanding of our meeting yesterday, I then found a job description template and tweaked it a bit to include for his consideration as he puts together his proposal for the board meeting next month.

Several things happened today, though, that perked my writing energy back up.

One, I got paid for ten books. (Always nice!) One payment included a request for a catalog of any future books, and the other payment included a long note from the nuns and a very generous check
"for the care and feeding of the owner of Pileated Press (assuming that this is MS Dodd!; if not, you keep it.) We want to make sure there is a steady supply of material coming from it."
With that kind of practical encouragement, I have to get to work, right?

Also, a book I had requested from the library to help with one of the chapters for the Elijah book arrived this morning. I will pick it up when I go over shortly to do my volunteer stint.

So the signs are pointing in the "get off your bum and write" direction for the moment.

Borrowed from Tom

Warning to Kristin: Sad story!


Helen wrote this morning that Buddy died, peacefully, during the night.

He had been slipping away since early February. During his most recent visit to the Dells, between Christmas and New Years, he slept much of the time. He still wanted his official walk on a leash every day, but I noticed that he didn't eat as much or as eagerly, and he wouldn't walk far.

In February, he lost interest in food, as his body shut down. During the last few weeks, he slept almost all of the time.

I'm sad to see him go. Buddy was a lively, lovely dog, good-tempered, friendly and curious, a delight to have underfoot.

Buddy was, on the other hand, no genius. Helen remarked that Buddy was the dumbest dog we ever had, and a dog that thought the sun rose and set on me. She was kind enough to refrain from mentioning a connection.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Job outlook

I had an interview about taking over the management of the museum shop at the railroad this morning. Yada, yada, yada.

Some things got hammered out, the job description seems reasonable and doable.

On the bright side:
It is likely to be a year-round job, although not full time all year.
It will be a salaried position.
I would actually BE the manager, not trying to work for three bosses who are all on different wavelengths. (A common problem with non-profits and volunteer organizations.)
Dave is going to investigate the possibility of health benefits through a museum consortium. (Not expecting anything the come of that, but at least he says he will check.)
On the other hand:
This has to be run past a board meeting next month, and they can't make me a firm offer until near the end of April.
I suspect there will be some adjustment to be made as we shift to a more year-round, perhaps more business-oriented (though not primarily profit-motivated) mode of operations. (See above remark about lots of bosses ...)
Both my current job possibilities (library, museum shop) are in mostly detail limbo without enough known for me to make an objective comparison and choice.
Many of my friends are out of work, with nothing yet on the horizon, and they don't have the safety net that Tom's generosity provides for my basic survival needs.

So be grateful, Michael!
On the book front, CreateSpace is running behind with things at the moment, and my Gratian book is caught in their general slowdown. The good news is that they acknowledged there is a problem and promised to upgrade my proof shipping when the copy is ready to speed things a bit. I had hoped to have it out by now, but the best laid plans ...

One reason I wanted to have it out is that sales for the mystery have slowed, and sending out publicity on the new book will provide me with a chance to plug the mystery again.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


We had heavy rain in the night and showers all day long. More expected tonight. Meanwhile, there is a flood advisory for Sauk County.

Cassidy and Sundance are not amused.

But then, this is supposed to be the Waterpark Capital of the World!

And as every single person you see says, "At least it's not snow or ice!"

Tom went out and bought a couple of trees -- river birch. I wonder if that's a bad sign?

Quick update

First of all, I do appreciate it when you pray for my friends here there and everywhere. Just knowing people are praying for them makes them feel better.

Second, things went well with Steve's procedure apparently. I don't know the details yet, but he says things can be treated with drugs. Now if he will just begin doing the next healthy thing, that should turn out well.

Again, thanks for the prayers. I also have several friends who have been laid off and are looking for work. So mention that next time you chat with God, please.

Monday, March 23, 2009

And there's no "The Big Bang Theory" on tonight!!!

Which I really do like a lot.
And, despite Tom's snide remarks, it is not because I am like Sheldon.

Another thing to pray about

I got a call this afternoon from the head of the railway operations to ask if I would consider taking over as manager of the museum store. We will be getting together later this week to talk about what that means. It won't mean any health benefits, that I do know, which is one thing I would dearly love. But if everything else looks good, I will seriously consider it.

I'd rather have the library job, but you got to dance with them what asks you, I guess.

More Monday meanderings

Today has been a bit like one of those Family Circus cartoons where Billy wanders all over the place

The day started relatively innocently with Tom announcing that the faucet in the kitchen sink was leaking and he would fix it after I had breakfast. That alone was enough to encourage me to go elsewhere. But I was unable to avoid the temptation of turning it on to witness the leak, and naturally it was no longer leaking. Just a mater of time, I am sure, so I continued with my plans to hide out.

Just as I was heading out the door, Barry called me from Florida. He just does it to gloat over the weather, I think. So after I reported that it was wet and cloudy and cool, he told me how they had sat out on the beach yesterday in the sun. I pretended to be happy for him.

Then I went to the bank and moved some cash from the money market account to a five-month CD where it will get about 10 times the interest. No, literally, ten times. Why didn't I do this months ago?

Then to the library to work on Penultimate, Wisconsin stories. (Mostly editing, I have to admit, not much in the way of creativity this morning.)

I had intended to go from the library to Walmart for an oil change, but I realized I didn't want to leave the laptop and all my banking papers in the car while it was worked on or walk around with a heavy attache case for a half hour. So I came home to drop things off on the way. Tom decided to come over with me and do some shopping while I waited.

Normally this would take about half an hour. Today everyone in the Greater Metropolitan Area decided to get an oil change at the Lake Delton Walmart at lunchtime. So it took more like an hour and a half.


So now it is mid-afternoon, cool (about 40 F, 3.8 C) and we are between bands of rain. That should start up again soon and be off and on most of the rest of the day.

All of which combines to put me and the cats in a nap mood. Tom, on the other hand, took the leaf blower out to clean up some of the yard. Maybe Sundance's snoring will drown it out.

Update on Steve

I asked for prayers for my friend Steve Flower, and I wanted to update you. Yesterday it sounded like he was going to be sent home with the admonition to "eat healthy!"

But this morning we got this email:
I've been at St Luke's hospital in Maumee, Ohio since Friday morning - I came in when I started to have chest pains early in the morning. They've done a couple of heart scans, and have decided to do cardiac catheterization today at 2:30 ET (1:30 CT). While this procedure is a lot more "commonplace" than it was a dozen years ago, it's still a pretty invasive process.

Depending what they discover today will determine what steps they take. Hopefully, because these have been first symptoms, it will be minimal - but you never know. My guess is that I will be here 3-4 more days.

I'd appreciate your prayers as I go into this process. They will take me down about 1:00 ET for the prep process. My sisters and partner will be with me, so I'd ask you to keep Sue, Sandy and Chris in your prayers as well.
So keep up the prayers. Mama, tell Daddy that Steve has dedicated a lot of time and energy to DeMolay groups.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


(I keep looking for something that says "Back at The Lodge" for Fr. Jerry Williams [old joke], but no luck so far. What I did find, oddly enough, was a picture of the Masonic Lodge signs in Huntsville, Texas.)
I had a pretty quiet day, doing some laundry, working on some stories and so on. Had a nice email from a Franciscan sister in Chicago telling me she liked the mystery and was going to get one for a friend for her birthday. Also got a Facebook invite from a Carmelite sister I know in Oklahoma. So I guess it was a bit of a catch-up day.

Tom went over to the railroad, because he and John were planning the careful track survey in preparation for opening in two weeks. But Dave (head honcho) decided to just go ahead and sell tickets today, so they wound up running three trips and Tom got to engineer the diesel. This is rather typical of the little railroad. You just never know what will happen.

Sundance is still acting needy, but she's eating the mixed cat food. Cassidy is not all that picky an eater -- as you can tell when you see her!

Lots of doves around. The other day we saw about twenty turkeys up in one of Jerry's fields. Otherwise nothing all that interesting critter-wise.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Slightly soggy spring Satruday

For the first night of spring, we had rain late and a dusting of snow on the ground this morning, in patches.

The drive had been clean and dry, but you can see that it held some of the snow. The sun is shining and it is already above freezing, so most of the new stuff will disappear quickly. It should get up into the mid-50s (12-13 C) today and for most of next week. We also expect a lot of rain beginning Monday. There are still some places where piled up snow in the shade hasn't melted, but those temperatures and rain should take care of that.

I am making an apple dump cake to have for dessert tonight when John, Judi and Matt come for dinner.

Marty called and asked me to fill in for her at the library this morning, so I'll be heading over there soon.

Saw lots of cranes last night and yesterday a finch at the feeder looked like it was beginning to transition to yellow. I saw one pretty hefty hawk down at Berry and Birchwood.

What you can't see in the Spain picture, Kirstin, is that I had a mustache. Not much of one, I admit. But, oh for the days when this balding head could aspire to Beatle-hair-hood! Now when I brush Cassidy, I throw away more hair than I have on my head.

Speaking of cats, Tom bought them some low-fat catfood and they are loudly unimpressed. Sundance whined and whined all day, and we broke down and gave them some tuna. Then we went out and bought some of their old food and mixed it with the new. I thought we were going to try to gradually wean them onto the new stuff, but I heard Tom talking to Cassidy this morning and it sounds like we have lost that battle.

Friday, March 20, 2009


I was looking online for a photograph, and I ran across a couple I wanted to share.

The first is of my friend, Fr. Tim Dodd. When Tim started studying at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, he saw my name on the list of spiritual directors. So he made an appointment, mostly just to meet another Dodd, I think, and we worked together for a while. We couldn't figure out any close family connection. Tim grew up in Michigan, but he had been living in Minnesota before he moved to Chicago to study. He used to be a photographer and took the photo of me with the hat that is on this blog. He comes to visit us from time to time, and we roped him into volunteering his photography skills at the railroad. He is very talented, in this and in many other ways.

The other is a photograph taken back in 1978 when I went with other Carmelite students to visit Spain. This was taken in Avila, and the folks in the picture are (beginning at the bottom and on the left, with the guy in the white jacket): Marc Foley, Steve Payne, John Sullivan (beard), me, Patrick Lim Sue (the Asian student beside me), Fred Alexander (the only African American Carmelite friar still, as far as I know) and Phillip Thomas (between Fred and Patrick, just above my head.) Most of them are still Carmelites. Marc is in DC, Steve in Nairobi, John is Provincial and in Milwaukee, as I think are Fred and Philip. (My directory is a bit out of date.)

In Avila, Fred and Patrick attracted a lot of attention from the children, many of whom had seen very few blacks or Asians, and certainly not running around in brown habits.

Prayer request

A former Lutheran seminarian friend from Chicago -- now living in Ohio -- went to the hospital this morning with chest pains. Probably not a heart attack, but they are running more tests. He has diabetes and is high risk for other reasons, too. (As you can see, weight is an issue.)

So say a prayer for him -- Steve Flower. He is just a month away from being downsized from the telephone company -- his job being sent to India -- so at least this happened while he still has health benefits.

I'm sure he'd rather just be well.

BTW, Steve helped us move up here from Chicago back when. A bunch of people helped us pack up, but Steve drove a car load of stuff up and helped us unload. I'm not sure we ever would have been able to get the heavy sofa into the house without his help.

Not quite frosty Friday

Well, we've had a bit of everything this week.

Right now it's cloudy, just below freezing and very damp out. We may even get some snow or rain mixed with snow overnight. Not to amount to anything, but a cruel reminder that although spring is officially here, in Wisconsin winter's not over till the fat snowstorm sings. And that may yet come. Back in 1987, at Holy Hill we had a snowfall of about eight inches on May 9. The trees had already leafed out, and the snow was wet and heavy. So lots of tree branches down. The back drive looked like a tornado had come through.

Tom went over to the railroad this morning to do what he could to clean up around the tracks for the track inspection he and John are planning for this weekend. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and 50 (10 C), and they hope to get some stuff cleared up. If the weather holds, we will be running trains April 4. So sometime in the next two weeks, I will have to get over there and help Mary with inventory and getting the museum store set up.

While he did that, I laundered all the towels and things we got at Kohl's this morning. They were having a great sale and with my coupon, we got better quality towels at a price better than even Walmart. But to give Walmart their share of the wealth, we also went by and picked up a red futon cover that was on sale for half price. We don't have a futon, but we plan to use this as a cover for the sofa cushions. Tom had made denim covers for them and they held up for quite a while. Then the cats decided denim was the perfect scratching material. We'll have to hope they ignore the futon cover they way they always ignored the old covers before we went denim.

And I am working on the Elijah book. I think this afternoon, though, I will work on a short story, just to give myself a break. Perhaps it is time to do something with "The Bear's Bodkin."

Don't ask.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


So I had requested this book by Jane Ackerman from Interlibrary Loan to check a few things for my book on Elijah. I was flipping through it, when what to wondering eyes should appear, [no, not a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer] but a quote from an article I wrote back in 1992.

It's nice to know someone actually reads these things. And even better, thinks some of it worth quoting.

Hip, hip, huzzah!

Or whatever.


Red-winged blackbirds on Jerry's fence (Why aren't they called black-bodied redbirds?)

Unopened buds on the forsythia outside my window.

Robins everywhere.

Yellow-green willow branches.

Guinea hens in the ditch in front of The Ranch Riding Stable.

Nancy hanging up newly painted birdhouses.

No snow in the forecast for the next week. (But then ...)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Not much

Now that the weather is warmer, the bird feeders actually seem to get less business. I assume as the migratory birds start passing through, we will see more action and maybe some color. Right now except for the red patches on woodpeckers, it is mostly gray and brown and white -- kind of like the countryside.

I have noticed sand hill cranes around. Not right here, but a couple down by County H last week and a couple over across from Beaver Springs yesterday. Today there were a bunch of crows poking around in the field Jerry farms across the road. And I have heard some bird song, something I had not heard for a while.

Evelyn finished my book and liked it well enough to tell her sister to buy one. Now that's a good friend!

The Elijah book is coming along. I should start putting some time into the short story collections, too. When and if I start working regularly, I won't have all this leisure.

We had Chinese tonight. Sweet! (Well, not sweet sweet, but you know, Sweet!) We expect John, Judi and Matt for dinner Saturday, and if the weather holds, Tom will cook something on the grill.

I am cooking my Texas red chile for Thursday night. I made a run over to Wally World and they were out of fresh jalapeƱos. I wasn't happy, but this stuff has to cook for close to twelve hours and I couldn't count on them having any tomorrow morning early. So I got a jar of slices, but it won't be quite the same.

The cats are demanding attention, so I will mosey.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Say what?

Our dear governor proudly unveiled the latest motto (neutral term for marketing slogan) and it immediately fell flat. Which seems appropriate since the logo includes some red dude standing on his hands. As one person said, it might work for a clown school or a tumbling studio, but for the State of Wisconsin?

Apparently it also gets bad marks because it is a ripoff off a Bacardi Rum ad of a few years back. Now Wisconsin, as I have remarked here before, does have a drinking problem, but we are more of a beer-guzzling state. Maybe they should have tried, "Wisconsin: More taste, less filling!"

At any rate, a few years back the tourism slogan was a simple Escape to Wisconsin. Sounds pretty good, but Wisconsin teens immediately started cutting and pasting to make it Escape Wisconsin.

Back to the drawing board?

The best ad campaign I have seen lately is for the Tommy Bartlett Ski, Sky and Stage Show. This was the major victim of last summer's draining of Lake Delton, which is currently refilling and should be full in time for the season to begin Memorial Day weekend. The Bartlett Show ads say, "Even the water is new!"

Now that's clever.

Sure, an' it's the truth! And a happy St. Pat's to y'all!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Summer time and the ... well, not quite.

Another warm day. Tomorrow it may actually hit 70 (21 C). Tom grilled sausage tonight, so we are still in cookout mode for a while. Later in the week we will be back to highs in the 40s (5C-10C) and rain. But for now it is springlike, if not summery.

Tom cooked hot Italian sausage for himself, but mine were made from lean turkey. Mama said she didn't know how I maintain my weight if we eat out so much, but I tend to avoid red meat, eat a lot of chicken and often when we eat out, I get a large salad with grilled chicken breast strips. So I fill up on lettuce. And then I am very faithful to the exercycle every day. Mama can't figure out why I don't gain more weight; I can't figure out why I'm not skinny!

There is an Irish shop in Baraboo, but they carry other Celtic items. Today I went by and got a Welsh flag pin. I figure I can wear it for St. Patrick, since it has green in it.

When I told the lady all I needed was the Welsh pin, she said, "You must be a Welshman, because you know what that is."

"Doesn't everyone?," I asked, knowing the answer was no.

She just laughed.

PS -- Another book sale on Amazon today. At this point, I think people must just be finding it on their own, so maybe there will continue to be a trickle of sales.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Grillin' and chillin'

It was a nice day today and after Tom dropped off some papers at the railroad, we went downtown and walked around. We did the RiverWalk and then wandered up and down looking into the junk shops. It's Spring Break time, so there were a number of tourists around. Some dudes even in t-shirts, but I don't think it was quite that warm.

Nonetheless when we got home, Tom put the deck chairs out and sat out there reading while I worked on my book for a while. He had bought stuff last night to make Chinese food for dinner today -- he is a great Chinese food cook! -- but decided the time had come for the first cookout of the year. So instead we had chicken kabobs. Very tasty and a reminder of how good just about anything is cooked on the grill.

Now I will have to get my Chinese fix elsewhere.

BTW, I see that Amazon sold another copy of the book today. Poco a poco, as they say in Spanish, or pole pole in Kiswahili.

Brother Bryan, who is the Marketing Director for ICS Pulbications, always told me that people buy books when you advertise. He would send out an ad and the book would sell. When sales slacked off, he would send out another flyer and it would sell again for a while. This coming week, I plan to send a mailing out to the Carmelite monasteries about the new book, and I will remind them that the mystery is also avaialble now on Amazon.com.

Meanwhile I plug along with Elijah and his ravens.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Dinner in the Dells

We went out to dinner at the Del-Bar with Debbie, Jim and Debbie's cousin Amy tonight. It was my first time there, and it is a very nice place. We had a great time. Debbie had brought her copy of the book for me to autograph, and Amy was amiable enough to buy one herself. I was instructed to write a long inscription about how much she has meant to me over the years, the joke being that I just met her tonight, of course. She lives in Columbus where much of the upcoming Johnny Depp movie was filmed last summer, so I said I would work something about the time shared with him into it as well.

Sunny with a chance of ravens

Actually, not only is it warmer, it actually got up to about 48 (9 Celsius) this afternoon. It may get up to 60 (15.5 C) for St. Patrick's Day on Tuesday.

I spent much of today working on yet another book. This one, as I have mentioned before, will be a Carmelite-style reflection on the story of the prophet Elijah being fed by the ravens. It is based loosely on a fourteenth-century Carmelite tradition about how the Carmelite vocation is symbolized by the story in First Kings 17. My plan is to use the story to talk about dryness, detachment, charity, the Holy Spirit, unexpected messengers from God and prayer. Very tradtional Carmelite themes.

I think this will be the next book published. I have also been working on three collections of short stories, and I hope to make some more progress there.

No cover design yet for the Elijah book. The working title is Elijah and the Ravens of Carith: A Twenty-First Century Reflection in a Medieval Carmelite Mode.

Boy, I spent too much time in academia! That sure sounds like a dissertation title.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Progress not perfection

After dinner this evening, the proof copy came of the next book. Tom's cover design looks great, but there were a handful of corrections that needed to be made to the text. So I inserted those and resubmitted it. With luck, this time next week the final proof will be here.

I always hope the next proof (the first one, the second one, the whatever one) will be the final one. I am getting better at catching errors along the way, and unless there is some major catastrophe, the next proof in this case will be the final one. I don't expect that this book will find readers outside of a small circle of Carmelites, and there is no need to spend too much time honing it for an audience I can expect to be forgiving. And it looks pretty good at this point.

Have a good day

I know it is supposed to be a bad luck day, but when Tom did my Wisconsin income tax this morning, he discovered that I can leave some in for next year (for the same reason I left some in for the federal) and still can get more than a hundred bucks back.

So for me anyway, the day is starting off with good news.

Noni gets to go to Hawaii tomorrow for a week's break from school. Now that is good luck!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Our little library

We recently had some incredible news at the Kilbourn Public Library:

The Kilbourn Public Library stands out among the nation's libraries as it attained the maximum five-star ranking in the Library Journal's Index of Public Library Service.

The report ranked 7,115 libraries across the country in categories based on the size of their budgets. The libraries were rated based on the number of visitors to the library, circulation, Internet use and participation in library programs. Two hundred fifty six were awarded three, four or five stars. Only 84 libraries of the 256 scoring in the top tiers placed in the five-star category.

Librarian Jess Bruckner said Kilbourn Public Library placed high for the amount of Internet traffic at the library.

"Our library ranked third in the nation out of all starred libraries for public Internet terminal uses per capita," Bruckner said.

According to records kept by Library Director Cathy Borck, the number of computer users peaked in 2007 compared to the last four years. There were 34,546 computer uses in 2007. That same year there were 2,864 wireless Internet uses. In 2006, the year for which data was used in the Library Journal report, the library had 30,953 computer uses.

Kilbourn Public Library also scored well for the number of people to visit the library among competitors in the $200,000 to $399,000 expenditures category.

In 2006, library users visited the library 101,141 times. Circulation was 81,496.

"This ranking mechanism, it validates that the library is a valued institution within the community by its members and guests..." Bruckner said. He added that the library's ranking can also be a call to library non-users that they become better acquainted with the services in their own town.

Borck said the ranking shows that the library is meeting the community's demands and attributes its success to the staff.

Only three libraries in the state were given star-rankings, and only Kilbourn got all five stars. And as you read, we are one of only 84 five star libraries in the entire country.

We have reason to be proud.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Deep in the heart of taxes

God bless him, Tom did my taxes today. I won't embarrass myself by telling you how little I made, but for some reason, this year when my earnings were the lowest by far since I left the monastery, doing my taxes was the most complicated.

That is because the money I earn from the Carmelite Institute makes the tax system consider me self-employed, which adds page after page of boxes to check or not check. I also wound up doing an itemized account of my medical expenses because they were so huge this year, but as it turned out, that didn't help any.

In the end, I was due a few hundred back in a refund, but because of the whole self-employed thing, we decided it was safer for me to apply the refund to next year's taxes, just in case I get in trouble for underpaying. Not really for underpaying in total, but underpaying because it is not spread out over twelve months. Since this year my self-employed income will include whatever I make on books, it is best to be careful

This is because the Institute, despite my requests, does not withhold anything from what they pay me. I have always included what I make from them on my income tax in the past and paid tax on it. This year, because I am trying to provide the government with the whole paper trail of my puny finances, the Institute gave me a 1099 form. But that means (since they also sent it to the IRS), the teaching is no longer considered a part time or sporadic job, but instead I am considered self-employed.

At least I did not have to pay any additional federal taxes this year like last year.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Flat Matthew continues

Judi (real Matt's mom) emailed us to say that Matthew is excited that Flat Matthew is so famous.

I told her maybe we could get Flat Matthew on Dancing with the Stars.

A lesson in looking

So immediately after I wrote that last post about being unable to find the book, I went back out to the library and looked again. There it was on the top shelf, next to a whole series of Tony Hillerman mysteries. Somehow the book design fit right into the mysteries on the shelf, and it managed to make itself invisible.

Had the passenger pigeon managed to make itself invisible, it might still be around to be found today.

Anyway, now I can read the essay I wanted to see.

[Later] I discover that the essay I recall was not about a roosting (called nesting below), but was a talk given on the occasion of the State of Wisconsin erecting a monument to commemorate the pigeons. Today a marker near Black River Falls north of us bears this text:
Huge flocks of passenger pigeons once roamed North America. Larger than the mourning dove which it resembled, the passenger pigeon derived its name from an Indian word meaning "wanderer" or one who moves from place to place. Flying at a normal speed of sixty miles per hour, the pigeon moved hundreds of miles in migration and 50-100 miles a day during the nesting season, searching for food.

The largest nesting on record anywhere occurred in this area in 1871. The nesting ground covered 850 square miles with an estimated 136,000,000 pigeons. John Muir described the passenger pigeons in flight, "I have seen flocks streaming south in the fall so large that they were flowing from horizon to horizon in an almost continuous stream all day long."

Many reasons have been given for the extinction of the passenger pigeon. Each year millions were trapped, clubbed, or shot for food and pleasure. The last known passenger pigeon died in a Cincinnati zoo in 1914.

Missing books and birds

This evening I plan to attend a lecture, co-sponsored by the Friends of the Kilbourn Public Library and the Dells Area Historical Society, on passenger pigeons -- once the most numerous birds in North America (some say in the world) but extinct since 1914 when the last known specimen died in a zoo in Cincinnati.

Huge flocks of them used to come to this area where they were hunted by sportsmen who came by the trainloads from Chicago and points east. I recall reading an account of one of these huge roostings in Aldo Leopold's essays about Wisconsin wildlife and conservation, and I wanted to read it again before going to the talk.

I know I re-read the book fairly recently, but neither Tom nor I could locate it anywhere on the bookshelves or elsewhere in the house this morning. Nor can we recall lending it out to anyone. It doesn't really matter. I will just have to listen carefully and learn what I can tonight.

But I do wonder where the book disappeared to ... along with those billions of passenger pigeons.

Flat Matthew and the small world

As I mentioned, yesterday we packed up the Flat Matthew materials and mailed them off.

This morning, the following comment showed up on the Flat Matthew blog:
Sara, ICF Educator said...

I saw your posting on Flat Matthew visiting the International Crane Foundation (ICF). I coordinate online activities for ICF's international education project, Three White Cranes, Two Flyways, One World (view our project site at www.trackingcranes.org/en/index.html), and I'm curious if Flat Matthew might be interested in an international adventure this summer? We are always looking for new ways to promote exchanges between students in the US and East Asia, and Flat Matthew might be able to visit northeastern China and Russia with our staff this summer. Please contact me if this would fit into his schedule.

Well, the Flat Matthew project, as far as I know, is over. But we will forward this on to him c/o Round Matthew and his class to see if Flat Matthew wants to travel the world.

Pretty cool, huh?

Monday, March 9, 2009

More snuggie cat

Cassidy really likes the Snuggie, although she does not look all that happy to have her picture taken. I think it is the softness of the material, plus its stickiness quotient. Cassidy is one of those cats who love to knead, and the Snuggie makes a satisfying sound when she is poking away at it.

Sundance likes it, too, but Cassidy seems to pick it as her snoozing surface of choice when it's available. She particularly likes it if I have it wrapped around me and she can poke the Snuggie and Michael at the same time.

Boy, is that thing blue or what?

Publlishing for beginners

Today has been minor league annoying publishing stuff.

First, I sent Tom the text for the Flat Matthew journal for him to print on his better printer. Once that was done, we discovered that for some reason, some photos had not printed. So Tom decided to redo the whole thing from scratch.

While he did that, I packed myself and my laptop off to the library to finish a short story or two. (I finished one and made some progress on another.) While there, I was able to show Laura and Stephanie [the librarian and a volunteer who had agreed to be photographed with Flat Matthew and included in his adventures] their pictures online on the Flat Matthew blog. Steph, I think, was particularly pleased, and I thanked them both for being part of it.

Tom's reworking took longer than anticipated, and when he printed it out, there were problems again. Eventually, though, it got done, the journal was put together in a cover, packed in the box with the various souvenirs and ready to mail off to Matthew's school.

Meanwhile, I had received an order for books from a California monastery. So I got those packed up, the invoice printed and all that stuff and took it to mail at the same time.

And with a sigh of relief, we now await the proof copy of the Gratian book later in the week and all the stuff that will follow upon that.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


This is a picture of the deck out back about six this evening. The winter storm warning remains in effect until nine, but on the radar it looks like it should be over here fairly soon.

I went out to measure with the ruler, and so far this afternoon we have had four inches plus (about 10 centimeters).

Tom normally would have been out shoveling off and on, and he has been out. But this is the dangerous heavy, wet winter/spring snow. Besides, it is supposed to get above freezing tomorrow and stay that way for a couple of days at least. With any luck, most of it will melt away by Wednesday.

Meanwhile, we have finished up Flat Matthew's journal this afternoon and will pack it up with the various souvenirs we got for him. Assuming we can get to the post office tomorrow, we will then ship it out.

Today when we went over to unload the trailer, Matthew told me he wished we could keep Flat Matthew all the time. I didn't tell Matt, but I think it would wear us out! Matthew has been following Flat Matt's adventures online, and I think he has considered it his personal news or comic strip or something, and now he will miss checking in every day.

Flat Matthew, Round Matthew and John

The Riverside & Great Northern had a board meeting yesterday, and John came up from Illinois for that, bringing his son Matthew. Matthew is the kid we are doing the Flat Matthew project for, and the time is here to box Flat Matt up and send all the stuff we have written and collected down to the school.

So we invited John and Matt over for pizza last night, and Flat Matthew joined us for a sort of farewell party. You can see how pleased Round Matthew was.

Round (or Real) Matthew is a bright kid, and while Tom and John discussed railroad business, I showed him everything in the house and on my computer. He was very excited about the possibility of being featured in a souvenir book for the railroad, so I hope that works out.

He also likes cats, but his father doesn't. So he took advantage of the opportunity to pet Sundance and Cassidy. They were a little nervous at first, but after a while they were rubbing up against him and demanding more attention.

Later today, weather permitting -- we are under a winter storm watch and may be getting several inches of snow -- we will meet them over at the railroad to unload the trailer full of all the things we took to the model railroad show a couple of weeks ago. Then they will head back to Illinois and we will hightail it home before the storm hits (if it does!)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Following up on the local economy

As I mentioned, the local papers have been carrying discussions about the tourist industry here hiring foreigners at a time when Americans need work. There was a letter in the paper this morning defending the businesses. What was most striking to me was this comment in the final paragraph:
I'm sure there are plenty of summer jobs for those that apply—but consider that unemployment insurance, if available, pays better than most Dells area summer jobs.
Doesn't the fact that unemployment pays better than the jobs on offer here indicate that something is out of whack?

I am not, by the way, saying that unemployment is too generous. Not so much. And you can't get unemployment here unless you were laid off from your previous job, so no one quits a job or refuses work so they can get unemployment. If they do and are caught, they are ineligible. And with Wisconsin's unemployment funds in danger of running out, they are screening everyone carefully.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

More writing

Today I received the latest issue of Spiritual Life magazine with one of my articles in it. And a nice check!

It does not add up to all that much, but for the last month or so, my writing has produced most of my income. If only it were a real living!

Phones, phones, too many phones

Okay, there are two of us who live in the house. Well, two who use telephones, since Sundance and Cassidy screen all their calls through us.

We each have a cell phone, although they are basically for emergency use and I almost never get a call on mine.

When Tom built the house, he had three regular phones installed: one in his office, one in my room and one in the main living room/dining room/kitchen area. In addition, there is an old analog telephone in the basement that is not connected through our power lines. That is so that we have a telephone to use in an emergency if we lose power.

Recently Peggy and Rich gave us three phones. (Long story, not all that interesting, although it was nice of them. Thanks, guys!)

So now we have nine phones, counting the cells. Remember, two old guys, two cats and a house with three bedrooms, an office, two baths and a great room.

Last night I was on the exercycle in the basement -- Tom was out -- when the phone rang. I got off the bike and stumbled to the phone. I picked it up but it was dead. Yet miraculously it kept ringing a few more times and then stopped. Puzzled, I put it down.

I mentioned it to Tom this morning and he went to check on it. Turns out he had put one of the extra phones downstairs near the basement phone, but had not plugged it in. The real phone rang, but I picked up the unplugged one.

Soooo dumb! Anyway, if you call and aren't getting through, we are not screening our calls (like those uppity cats); it's just that I can't figure out which one is ringing.

Sad but true

The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.
- Walter Bagehot

On the business front, a friend lost her job recently because the small, locally-owned drug store where she works in the pharmacy is going under. The problem seems to have been that the owner needed to borrow money and the banks were unwilling to lend. Naturally our friend sees all this as an injustice, and it does sound like it is more a consequence of the economic times than of problems with that particular business.

The news about GM is also sad. Although Tom and a partner ran their own IT business the last years before Tom retired, Tom himself worked under contract full time as a consultant for GM in Detroit. He used to commute between Chicago and Detroit every week. Anyway, lots of the people he worked with are looking at an end to what they had assumed would be a lifetime job.

Locally the newspapers are full of letters complaining that the big tourist resorts -- not the railroad, us being a tiny dot on the economic horizon of the Dells -- recruit workers overseas while people here need jobs, too. The resorts are fighting back with stories in the papers that they do plan to hire locally, but they need more seasonal staff than is available here.

Bits of truth on all sides there, as is usually the case. The resorts tend to pay minimum wage, offer only part time jobs with no benefits and force people into trying to coordinate two to three jobs with rotating schedules. It is easy to see why they are not the employer of choice for local residents. The jobs may be okay for a student just trying to earn spending money, but they are not great for folks trying to raise a family.

Also, the resorts apparently have earned a terrible reputation in the parts of Europe where they have been recruiting in the past. It varies from employer to employer, of course, but some provide their workers with terrible lodging -- in one case, they literally had guys living in a storage closet -- and make them work long hours at low pay, again with no benefits. This past year they had trouble getting people to come, partly because the exchange rate on the dollar was bad and partly because people in Poland and Russia were starting to hear bad things about working here.

Anyway, this is the time of year when they start hiring for those seasonal jobs, so, like it or not, folks are out there applying like mad. At least they have a chance of finding something to get them through until next fall.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Final post of the day

Just because I know you were worried, I thought I'd let you know -- there was enough food!

Okay, now you can ask.

I still don't know if we're going to have enough food, but I did a bit of exercycling to run off some steam, came back to the book and finished the formatting. So the cover and text have now been submitted to CreateSpace. They will get back to me probably tomorrow to let me know if it looks okay from their end. If so, they will send me a proof, which should take about a week to arrive.

Meanwhile, I will relax and try not to forget to put the biscuits in the oven.


Just don't ask!

Don't ask whether there will be enough dinner now that we are having two guests. I am actually at the "throw another potato in the pot" stage.

Don't ask how the work on formatting the book went today. You do not want to know.

Don't ask about my taxes, because I (meaning my "people" meaning Tom) haven't started them yet.

On the other hand, my lab work came back good from the doctor. It is sunny and 41 outside (5 Celsius). Tom and the guests will be going out to a meeting tonight and I can sit around with the cats and watch television or ride the exercycle or read or do anything but work on formatting the stupid book!!!!!


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Book work

I spent most of today getting the next book into shape. The text itself is okay, but now I am having to tinker with the formatting. Little piddly stuff, but it takes forever and it does make a big difference in how the book looks.

Tom, meanwhile, has been using his design skills to put together a great cover. I still have to write the copy for the back, and even the title is not final yet. But I thought I would post this much so you can see what a good job he has done.

He did this based on an old portrait of Gratian when he was being held hostage by Turkish pirates.

Looks kind of melancholy, doesn't it?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Thin ice

I have now reached a danger point with the book. Too many friends have actually started reading it, and that means my fragile ego is at risk of hearing some hard truths.

For those of you who are wondering what to say, may I suggest, "It was indescribable! I've never read anything like that in my life. However did you do it?"

On the other hand, today I got orders for nine books from a couple of monasteries, and that is great. I am now out of on-hand copies and will have to order some more. At some point, I am going to wind up with a dozen copies lying around collecting dust.

When I was at the library this morning, I picked up a book that I have been waiting for so that I can complete my next book. With luck that book will be complete by the weekend and up for sale within the next two to three weeks.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Texas Independence Day

We invited Peggy and Rich over for dinner Monday night to celebrate Texas Independence Day. I was tempted to make Frito Pie -- what could be more Texan or easier to make? But Peggy loves the enchiladas suizas that I make, based on a recipe from Sanborn's Casa de Azulejos Restaurant in Mexico City. So that is what it will have to be.

I was looking around for some sort of star-shaped napkin ring to use. We have some great Mexican-style dishes that go fine with the menu. But I wanted something Lone-Star-ish to mark the day. In Texas, of course, you would find things like that everywhere, but not so much around Wisconsin Dells. Next time I'm in Whitehouse, I'll have to get something to bring back up here. (Or not wait until the last minute to start looking!)

Another option was to fold the napkins like a star, but I couldn't find a way to do it that looked very good.

I get way too involved in things like this! I really need a regular job.