Friday, July 31, 2009

Of children, dragons and monkeys

Tom's foster son, John, arrived this morning with his mother and his two daughters -- Katya and Elena. They had stayed overnight in the Dells and came by for breakfast and a trip on the train before heading to Chicago.

The first time Katya visited, I had all the big dragons, and she still thinks of this as "the place with the dragons." And Tom has about thirty stuffed monkeys plus a few other animals thrown in for good measure. So when they got here, the girls wanted to see the dragons and the monkeys.

Elena is holding a big dragon (that actually belongs to Peter -- all I have are smaller ones now) and Katya has a floppy-eared bunny. They had dumped all the monkeys and things out onto the living room floor and draped them with some Mardi Gras beads that they found in the same box.

Here you see some of the spread, but this gives you no idea how many animals there are. There are a dozen dragons, thirty monkeys, a few more apes, a dog, a cat, some Teddy bears, some bunnies ...

After this, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast prepared by everyone [except me, but I did set the table and make the coffee] -- pancakes, bagels, fruit, bacon and sausage, juice and coffee. Then Tom gathered the Sjaastads all up to head to the railroad while I finished putting the dishes away and straightening up. John, who is a responsible parent, not only loaded most of the dishes in the dishwasher but also had the girls "play clean up" with the toys before they took off.

We are hoping that next time, Elliott will be old enough to make the trip. John says he is a huge train fan, and the railroad is made for such as he.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Christmas past

Back in the late 1990s, one Christmas my Christmas gifts to Kristin and Kirstin got mixed up. Since I always gave Kristin an angel, and that year the angel wound up with Kirstin's name on it, I had to remedy the situation. I found a small angel that played Amazing Grace and sent that to Kristin, along with a short story about the incident that I printed as a little booklet.

The title, if you can't read the picture very well, was The Well-meaning but Lowly Weird Wizard and the Disappointed Princess: The Story of an Imaginary Imagining and of a Reality Most Real.

Kristin told me she doesn't think she still has a copy, so I found one and am sending it on to her. It was fun to read again, and it was a reminder for me to pay more attention to details!

Rainy days and Thursdays

It is raining and 59 degrees (15 C). We expect a high of 67 (19.4 C). Ah, the hot days of late July in Wisconsin!

We had been expecting Tom's foster son, John Sjaastad, and his family for a fly-by visit today on their way to Chicago, but it looks like it has been postponed until tomorrow. That's just as well for me, because Thursday is usually taken up with meetings and library volunteering. Also it gives us another day to get the house straightened up, although Tom (and Peter?) did a pretty thorough job yesterday.

We got an invitation to Quentin Foster's second birthday party in August. Quentin and his parents live a couple of houses down, and his grandparents live one house beyond that. Tom made it to the party last year, but I was working and that will be the case again this time. Matt and Jodi, Quentin's parents, are both big people -- not fat, but tall and big. He already looks like a four-year-old. Last year they wanted truck toys for him, but I will check to see if train things are allowable now.

And with that, I had better get in gear to hit the road.

BTW, some kind soul bought a book online. So nice!

Dd you know that Agatha Christie's books have sold about four billion copies?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Another near brush with destiny

This is a picture of Dr. David Scheiner, who was Barack Obama's doctor when he was in Chicago (Hyde Park.) As it turns out, David was also my doctor and a great one for me. Although he looks a bit wary in this photo, he has a great sense of humor and of justice. He treated most of the Carmelites at the Edith Stein House of Studies back then, and we all thought very highly of him.


Recently I mentioned that two friends had parents in hospice. Michael's stepfather died this past weekend as did Barry's mother. Both funerals are today. Please keep them all in your prayers.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Not much to tell, but I thought I'd say hello. Today was busy -- not frantic -- at the railroad. I spent most of my day pricing stuff and sending out purchase orders and talking to sales people on the phone. NOT my idea of a great day, although I bet Vince would love it.

Stormy weather all around us, but not much right here except short sprinkles.

Still enjoying my memory foam mattress topper. Sleep is so nice!

Talked with a friend from Rhode Island tonight. Hadn't been in touch for a while, good to catch up.

Got a check for some books, which made me feel better. It looks like July was the month the book sales dried up online. I guess I'll have to write another book soon.

Looking forward to The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon Cooper rules, or would rule except he is beyond all that and can't be bothered. Now if I could just get one of those Green Lantern t-shirts ... [and the ring, of course.]

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Dragon and The Dauphins

This afternoon Judi and Matthew surprised me with a couple of gifts in honor of National Gift Store Manager Day. (No, you didn't miss it on your calendar, unless your calendar is in Judi's creative head.) I got some Jamaican Me Crazy coffee from the Coffee Bean Connection, a place in Baraboo that Judi and I both like. She is always making me pots of different coffees she gets there, and this is (I think Rich -- one of the owners -- told me) their most popular blend.

Along with the coffee was this bookmark with an Asian dragon design. I am a big dragon fan, and Asian dragons represent blessings, wisdom and good fortune. The text at the bottom says, "The Dragon is gifted, intelligent tenacious, willing and generous."

Thanks, Dauphins!

FYI: The Dauphin of France (strictly The Dauphin of Viennois) was the title given to the heir apparent to the throne of France, somewhat like the the Prince of Wales is the heir apparent to the throne of England. The word means dolphin in French, and refers to the animal on their flag and coat of arms.

Anyway, John and Matthew Dauphin are princes, and Judi a princess in my book any day.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wills & Grace

A number of circumstances -- possible changes in Wisconsin legislation, having two friends with a parent in hospice, visits from Tom's children, etc. -- have caused us to look at things like making wills and other legal documents about end-of-life issues.

This is one of the places where being poor makes life much simpler. I own no real estate, no automobile, nothing of any size or value to worry about. Besides my "personal effects" -- and who really wants an old laptop or a bunch of clothes that I bought from thrift stores to start with or the sorts of books accumulating on my bookshelves? -- there is a small amount of cash. The money in CDs can simply be assigned directly to a beneficiary and not have to go into a will process at all. The checking and money market accounts can be turned into joint accounts, meaning the other signatory can get the money out just by showing up with my death certificate. As for the rights to any royalties -- as if! -- from my books after my death, that money goes directly into the checking account, and I suppose the signatory could just keep it open -- there is no charge -- and take any tiny amount out that ever shows up. I will probably make a simple will, just to make sure there are no loose ends. But it is simple and I don't think anyone will want to fight over the small amount of cash or the twice-used clothes in the closet.

Tom, of course, is having to deal with more complications. He does own property and vehicles, has money in an IRA, has four children (and others) who will likely survive him and so on. Of course, he is/was a lawyer, which one would think would make this simpler. But it just seems to make him see all the possible permutations for which his will must (could) provide or address.

Sometimes, it is a grace to be poor!

Friday, July 24, 2009


I think I first heard this story in the movie version of Chaim Potok's The Chosen. There is was told in the context of the struggle between a young Hasidic Jew and his father, a revered rabbi. It was told as a traditional Hasidic tale, and perhaps it is. At any rate, it speaks powerfully of the difference between God's ways and ours.
The story goes that a king and his son had become estranged, and the son had moved far far away to a distant land. For many years there was no communication between them.
After a long period, however, the father sent a message asking his son to return home.
The son was at a distance of a hundred-day journey from his father.
His friends pleaded waith him, “Return to your father.”
But with tears in his eyes, the son said to them, “I can’t. The way is too far.”
The king sent a second message: "Meet me halfway, and I will meet you halfway."
Again the son sadly responded, "I can't. The way is still too far."
Then the father sent a third message: “My son, go as far as you’re able, and I’ll come the rest of the way to you.”
PS -- Once I posted something here and a reader thought I was trying to send her a message. So this is not a message for any one person. It is just a story I find worth pondering myself and that I wanted to share.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

For you skateboard fans

This is a video of a friend from Reedsburg. Michael is quite a skateboarder, and I think the piano accompaniment was provided by his father.

My only question to him was, "Where do you hide your wings?"

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Train museum photos

Tom took a couple of photos at the National Railroad Museum. The one below is what we call the Edsel train, actually a 1950s GM design for a train called the Aerotrain, which was supposed to compete with automobiles and airplanes. The rear car (they don't have one at the museum) also looks like the back end of an auto. Not a very successful attempt. It looks more like someone's idea of a train for an old Jetsons cartoon show. They were only used for about a decade. It turned out that it did not provide a smooth ride but a very bumpy one. Disney ran a miniature version called the Viewliner at Disneyland for a couple of years, billed as the "fastest miniature train in the world."

This is me sitting in the cab of the Big Boy -- the largest steam locomotive ever built. I think you could get one of the R&GN locomotives inside the cab of the Big Boy.

You can't tell all that much from this shot, but the train itself is GINORMOUS! Measuring 132’ 9 7/8” long – nearly half a football field (about 42.67 m) – it’s easy to see why the Union Pacific Big Boys are the world’s largest steam locomotives. Weighing in at 1.1 million pounds, Big Boy could consume 20 tons of coal in an hour and move at 70 m.p.h. However, it took an army of machinists, pipe fitters and maintenance workers to keep this behemoth on the road. Built in the early 1940s to cope with steep grades in Utah and Wyoming, the last commercial run of a Big Boy was in 1959.

And I'm not wearing my R&GN engineer's cap in those pictures. That is a Stewards of the Dells baseball cap.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Weather watch

So the Dells had a high of 61 degrees (16.1 C) today. At 5:30 it is 60 (15.5 C) and we expect a low of 50 (10 C) tonight. Tomorrow it will warm up to 65 (18.3 C)!

Ah, July in Wisconsin!

Green Bay

Back from Green Bay. We did the Heritage Hill State Park first, where we saw restorations and reproductions of housing and stuff from mostly nineteenth-century forts, farms, homes and so on. (The photo is of the Belgian farm.) One particularly entertaining woman spent much of her tour explaining why everything that was wrong in the nineteenth century was due to men being in control and girls not being allowed to go to school. I'm not sure how much of that was for show and how much was just her own opinion. At any rate, it was a hoot.

Then it was on to the National Railroad Museum. (Maybe I will have photos to post later.) It was interesting, especially the historical exhibits. They have a lovely shop, but it made me feel pretty good about ours, which has far more variety and prices that are better on most comparable items.

We lucked onto an Indian restaurant near the place we were staying, and it was excellent. I had a vegetarian thali and Tom had the non-vegetarian thali.
A thali is a selection of different dishes, usually served in small bowls on a round tray. Sort of like a "fisherman's platter" at a seafood place. I can't tell you exactly what I had, but it was great. I don't know much specific about Indian food (beyond curry, chutney, tandoori chicken and samosa), which is why I always liked the buffets. I get to taste everything and then get more of what I like.
One of the things I miss from Chicago is the rich diversity of foods. Just within walking distance of the apartment in Hyde Park you could get Thai at a half dozen places, Lebanese at Cedars, Greek (and Mexican and great omelets) at Salonika, good Chinese at Wok 'n' Roll -- still my favorite for sinfully unhealthy General Tso's chicken --, American southern at Dixie Diner and Bait Shop or Ribs 'n' Bibs, Italian and other things at places like the Medici or Piccolo Mondo, coffee with French pastries eaten al fresco at Bonjour Cafe on Sunday morning or a complete French meal at La Petite Folie nearby. A quick trip up to Devon not only meant an extensive Indian buffet but a walk through shops filled with saris, Indian art and books. And there were tons of really good Mexican places in the city. Not so much variety in the Dells, although Madison is not that far away and trips to see Bob Mitchell in Milwaukee often include a visit to an Indian or Greek restaurant.

This morning we stopped at the Oneida Nation Museum on the way home. It is small but very well laid out and informative. They also have a casino, but Tom and I had already learned at the Ho-Chunk casino near us that we are not even able to work slot machines without instructions. There is really no point in throwing money away. As the husband of a friend of mine who liked to go to the casinos in Atlantic City once told her, it would be cheaper just to mail the casino a check and save the cost of the gas to drive there. Making a small contribution to visit the museum was difinitely a better use of resources.

The weather was rainy off and on all the way back, but we saw lots of small towns (inlcuing Seymour which claims to be "Home of the Hamburger" and Rural -- totally rural, where the sign pointing to the Business District was along a highway marked "Rustic Road.") We also stopped for a brief visit to the Grand Army Home in King. This was a retirement village for Union veterans of the Civil War, with small cottages located on the shore of Rainbow Lake. The last such veteran died there in 1951 at the age of 105. Today a veterans home and hospital occupies the site with some of the original Home's buildings.

We also passed a buffalo ranch and saw cranes in fields and flying overhead. We got home in mid-afternoon and I took a nap. The motel was comfortable, but Tom snores (a bit louder than Sundance, whose snoring I am used to) and the people in the room overhead seemed to drop bowling balls (more likely it was workboots) every twenty minutes or so, just as I was drifting off.

PS: We did drive by Lambeau Field, but it was only because of a detour. [Wisconsin is one of the midwestern states with two seasons -- winter and road construction.]

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

July 16 is the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, so here's a shout out to all the Carmelites around the world on their special day.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Busman's holiday

It has been an incredibly busy week at the R&GN. Tomorrow morning Tom and I head to Green Bay for a couple of days, but it will not be a total break. One thing we will do is visit the National Railroad Museum and check out, among other things like the I Like Ike train, their shop to get ideas.

We also plan to visit a state heritage park and just relax away from everything else for a couple of days. Once we get back on Saturday, it will be back to busyness. We expect a group of 200 (yes, two hundred) to show up about four o'clock Saturday afternoon to take over the place for a retirement party for a (real) railroad employee. I'm not sure yet if this means I get to go home early or if it means I will have to work late. (I'll bet you can guess, though!)

So here's to a visit to Green Bay, but without an homage to Lambeau Field and the Packers. Sorry, Brett!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Don't forget

Several Christian churches in Iraq have suffered bombings this weekend. I ask again that you keep the minority Christian community there in your prayers, and pray especially for the Carmelites, among whom is my friend Archbishop Jean Sleiman.

Thank you.

Friday, July 10, 2009


After examining the tree damage this morning, Tom took off for an eye checkup -- turns out he will have to have cataract surgery -- and I cleaned up the house a bit in anticipation of a visit from a friend of Peter's. I made sure my paycheck had been deposited in my account, which it had. Then I showered and took off for Madison. I wandered around bookstores, had chicken teriyaki for lunch and got an acupressure back massage. Very nice! Also filled the car up on the way back and saved seven cents a gallon over the same brand in the Dells.

Then back to stop off in Baraboo to say hi to Tom at the Sauk County Fair, where I also saw Joe Screnock (who had brought us some homemade tartar sauce) and stopped by the PFLAG booth to say hello and thank them for being there.

Then back to the house about 4:00 to find Peter was still asleep. Since his friend's car is broken down, it looks like she probably won't be here until next week. Peter woke up in time to try to help find a place to repair her car, but it being a late Friday afternoon, he was not able to get it into the place he wanted. She has taken it somewhere and they are just hoping for the best at this point.

Meanwhile, I should go check on Rich and Peggy's mail and see if Molly the Cat needs anything.

Exciting day, huh?

PS -- Highlight of my day: Got the sweetest email from Kristin.

PPS -- Another highlight of my day: Matthew Dauphin (Round Matthew, as Tom calls him, to distinguish him from Flat Matthew, the blog we kept for his school project back in February and March) found this little flamingo at a shop and wanted to give it to us. Right now it is on top of the bookcase in the library with Tom's family photos. Thank you, Matthew! You know us too well!

Stormy, stormy night

Well, not all that stormy, to be honest. I was awakened about 4:30 this AM by my printer re-setting itself, an indication that we had momentarily lost power. I didn't even hear thunder, although that may have been what actually woke me. It was raining and Peter was still up watching television. He confirmed that we had had a power blip.

This morning when Tom went out to feed Molly -- Rich and Peggy's cat -- he noticed we had some poplar trees down in the front yard/woods. It looks like we may have had a microburst or something. No indication that anything was struck by lightning -- and we know from experience how loud that is when it happens. But about a half dozen trees had been toppled several feet above the ground, a couple large enough to be smashing everything under them. So it was probably high winds or some such. Poplars are notoriously susceptible to this type of damage. Only one deck chair was knocked over, but the back yard doesn't seem to have suffered any damage.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy holiday


I read that many children do not consider the Fourth of July a holiday because it lacks the two essential elements:
1) There are no presents.
2) It comes during summer and so doesn't get them out of school.
I hope you and yours have a good holiday -- presents, school or not.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Tom needed to come up with something he could cook to serve to Helen and Jay for a quick meal when they drop by to pick up Peter on the way to Chicago later. (Long story, don't ask.) He suggested lasagna, because it cooks and then sits for a while, thus being ready when they arrive with a bit of a window of opportunity. I flinched, because lasagna does not seem like a summer dish to me, although Tom's version made with Italian sausage is scrumptious. But we went and got the makings anyway.

Turns out that July -- yes, JULY -- is Lasagna Awareness Month. I have no idea who decided this. The Obama administration probably caved to the powerful Lasagna Lobby in DC, instead of going with a right-thinking all-American Hamburger Awareness Month. But I digress.

To help make you more aware of lasagna, here are some questions, no doubt assembled at great cost after extensive research by the said Lasagna Lobby's minions. My comments are in red.

Question 1: When do historians believe the first lasagna noodle appeared?
Middle Ages [When do people notice the first lasanga waistline spread? Again, Middle Age.] One of the most primitive forms of pasta, lasagna was considered a staple during the Middle Ages. [I cannot imagine how this worked. I guess if you press a wet noodle between two pieces of paper, it acts as a glue, thus producing the same effect modern folks get with a metal staple.]

Question 2: T/F: In Italy, you seldom find rippled lasagna noodles.
True. While rippled lasagna noodles are commonly found in America, they are not common in Italy. [Your basic Italian likes the lean and hungry look, and after all, Ripples are potato chips and virtually useless for holding sheets of paper together.]

Question 3: Aside from tomato sauce, what other sauce is frequently added to lasagna?
Aside from tomato sauce, béchamel is frequently added to lasagna. [Béchamel sauce (pronounced /bɛʃəˈmɛl/ in English, [beʃaˈmɛl] in French, [beʃaˈmɛlla] in Italian), also known as white sauce, is a basic sauce that is used as the base for other sauces, such as Mornay sauce, which is Béchamel and cheese. This basic sauce, one of the mother sauces of French cuisine, is usually made by whisking scalded milk gradually into a white flour-butter roux {beurre manié}. The thickness of the final sauce depends on the proportions of milk and flour. Why anyone would do this instead of just opening a can of tomato sauce is beyond me, and I bet it is beyond you, too. I imagine, however, that Béchamel sauce makes a dandy glue for sticking papers together.]

Question 4: Just how big was the largest lasagna ever created?
On May 11, 2008, the largest lasagna ever made was created by Spaghetti Warehouse and weighed 4.4 tons, taking up 2,000 square feet — approximately the size of a house. [I would bet any amount of money they used tomato sauce. Can you imagine whisking all the scalded milk and flour to make a house-sized lasagna? Also, since this was obviously a publicity stunt for Spaghetti Warehouse, why didn't they make it the size of a warehouse? Talk about your missed opportunities!]

Question 5: Which cartoon feline has a famous affinity for lasagna?
Garfield [If you want to know why Garfield hated Mondays, it was because he was still constipated from all the mozzarella he consumed over the weekend. I suspect, however, that his claws could have been used as an effective staple.]

And now I have done my part to make Lasagna Awareness Month all that it is meant to be.
A follow-up on the day lilies. I'm not posting photos because you can't really tell much from them, but the tall ones are about four feet tall (1.21 m), the short ones may be only a foot or so (30.5 cm) , with others ranging all the way in between. The blooms are mostly yellow on the shorter ones, with the taller ones orange or even purplish.