Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Big Picture

Tom decided that today was the day to buy a new television. He researched them to death last fall and winter, in preparation for the big changeover to HDTV, but finally decided he did not need to get one yet. Since we have Direct TV, we didn't need a new receiver.

The price on the 42 inch Panasonic plasma that he liked finally came down to what he considered reasonable, and today he got one and got it set up. It is impressive and seems huge compared to our old set. It will take some getting used to.

He is still trying to get the remote control set up so that you can do everything from just one remote. I'm not sure if this will ever come to pass.

But hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Texas, Our Texas! All hail, the Deep-Fried State!

One last Texas tidbit before I head north. The newspaper today had an article about the food you can get at the State Fair. Now fairs in the Midwest are famous for food-on-a-stick. Things like frozen-cheesecake-on-a-stick or pork-chop-on-a-stick. Minnesota boasts that you can get 59 kinds of food on a stick at their Fair. Well, boast may not be the right word. Maybe they just admit it, sheepishly. (Mutton on a stick? Or is that aged shishkabob anyway?)

Texas leans toward deep fried anything. The most absurd to me is something called Deep Fried Butter. Butter is whipped, flavored, dipped in batter and then deep fried. That's a picture of it on the side there.

What I want is the Rolaids concession at the State Fair. You could make necklaces or bracelets out of them, and people could wander around nibbling on their antacid jewelry after indulging in deep fried lard bullets.

Not that pork-chop-on-a-stick, which I have had, is a Fiber One product. Maybe you are supposed to eat the stick to help clean all that other stuff out of your system.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On the road again ...

I have been in Texas for the past week, and tomorrow I pack my bags and head to Longview to catch the Texas Chief to Chicago. Tom will pick me up at Union Station, assuming Amtrak gets me there, Thursday afternoon and we will wend our way back to the Dells. He is in Chicago visiting Chris, so that works out well. Otherwise it would have involved trying to coordinate bus travel from Chicago to Madison and such.

Saw lots of people this trip -- Christine, Rayburn, Florence, Bobbie, Phyllis, Ted, Cynthia, Kirstin, Jason, Brooke, Jackson, some folks at the Senior Center (including Carol, who kindly agreed to go with us to Longview so that she could keep my mother company on the way back to Whitehouse after they drop me off at the train station), people at Prince of Peace Parish and so on. (If I forgot to mention anyone, put it down to my vanishing memory!)

I even made a couple of trips to the cemetery and visited the graves of some of the many Dodds and Mitchums and Hedricks and McCoys. I even noticed a tombstone with my name on it. Mama and Daddy have mine and Ted's names on theirs. I guess it is a thing now to include your children on your stone, even if they are not going to be buried there. Maybe it is because they won't be buried nearby. At any rate, I saw that a number of tombstones have this feature, something I don't recall having noticed before. But maybe it was because it was never MY name on a stone before!

On a lighter side, I got my mother set up on Twitter and Facebook. We'll see whether she likes it or not.

Time flew, but I'll just take the train.

Monday, September 14, 2009

And a thought before I shut down for a while to vacation and write...

Consecrated ignorance is still ignorance.
-- Reinhold Niebuhr


I learned this morning that Brother Antonine DiSabella, who has been the cook at the friar's monastery in DC forever and a few years more, died yesterday, peacefully and in his sleep. He would have been 81 next Saturday.

Antonine was an amazing cook and one of the kindest men I have had the pleasure of knowing. About the worst he ever said about anyone was, "Oh, brother, he meant well."

He entered the Discalced Carmelites after working as a pastry chef, and he made his profession in May of 1949. As far as I know, he spent the rest of his life in the DC house. A few years back, the provincial wanted to transfer him to another monastery, but the friars in Washington rose in protest. Brother Antonine, they said, was the heart of the community and he could not go. So he stayed. His health had been declining for some time, but he continued to live, pray and work there where he had been for sixty years.

I am reminded of something a priest friend said when Fr. Gerard Taylor died: "Who would have thought that so great a heart could ever stop beating?"

May his soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

It is a sign of the times that I learned of Antonine's death in Washington by an email from Steve Payne in Nairobi.

Charter Update

Gee, someone at Charter MisComunications seems to read blogs. Shortly after Tom posted an update on his site after the third phone call this morning -- and he did mention the possibility of legal action or a report to the Consumer Fraud folks over at the State of Wisconsn Department of Justice -- he got a real friendly email from a guy in management offering to fix it all up nice and pretty:
Umatter2Charter said...

Hello Tom,

My name is Eric Ketzer, and I am a Manager with Charter Communications. Thanks for alerting us to this issue. I have contacted the Charter Business department to determine what number is listed for Baraboo. Can you please e-mail me the number that we have been calling to Umatter2Charter@chartercom.com, so I can make sure it is removed from that list?

Thanks for your time, Eric

It will be nice if Eric is able to take care of it. I do note, however, that he is asking us to tell him what number they have been calling. Wouldn't you expect a telephone company to have records of the telephone numbers its own people are making in the course of business?

BTW: Yes, I did get some work done on the novel in the midst of all this, thank you very much!

Charter MisCommunications

This is taken from Tom's blog of last Thursday (September 10). It will give you all the background.

Smiling Incompetence

I've been spending a lot more time with Charter Communications than I want to spend, lately.

Charter has a problem business account in Baraboo, and the cell phone number for that account is one digit off Michael's cell phone number. Somebody at Charter fat-fingered Michael's cell phone number into the company's computer at some point, so when the account became a problem account, Michael's cell phone was the contact number for Charter Communications.

Charter Communications called Michael's cell phone earlier this week. Michael was in a meeting. The call went to Michael's voicemail.

Michael's cell phone voicemail, as does mine, instructs callers not to leave a voicemail on the cell phone number, but to call our home phone instead, and leave a voicemail there if needed.

As a result, when Charter called Michael's cell phone some days ago, Charter Communications picked up our home phone and added it to the computer record for the business account they are chasing.

Since then, we've been getting a couple of calls from Charter a day, telling us to urgently call Charter Communications Business Services, Charter Communications Customer Support or Charter Communications Billing.

I've responded, in each and every case.

The first time around, Charter Business Services "corrected" the computer record to show the correct telephone number, and remove our numbers.

More calls came in.

I called again, and then again.

Both times I called, Charter assured me that our number did not appear on the business's record, and that there is no record of either Michael's cell phone or our home phone anywhere in Charter's database.


Yesterday afternoon, when yet another call showed up, I decided to ignore the "800" number game altogether.

I back tracked the origin of the call to Charter's local business office.

I called that number directly and talked to a woman named Michelle.

Michelle had the business's paper file at hand, and she discovered that that the written contract with the business had a cell phone contact number which was the one-off-from-Michael's cell phone number. She fiddled around on the computer for a minute, and then she assured me that the record was now, finally and once and for all, corrected.

That's how things stood yesterday afternoon.

But nonetheless, I got yet another call from Charter Communications this morning.

So I called yet again this morning. This time I asked Charter to open a trouble ticket within their own systems, and escalate the matter until it was resolved.

I reasonably sure that I know what the problem is, because I've worked with distributed databases. Charter's system is not a single-object system, but instead a multiple-object system. In multiple-object systems, corrected information is supposed to distribute throughout the system. In Charter's case, somewhere along the system, the corrected record is not distributing across the database, and somewhere in the system, our telephone numbers remain in the record.

With escalation, Charter Communications should now be tracing the record throughout their databases, and sooner or later, assuming that Charter's database system is a step more than half-assed designed, every distributed record should be automatically or manually corrected.

So I've done what I can and we'll see where this goes.

I have no idea what to do with a company like Charter Communications.

Everyone I've talked to is polite. Everyone I've talked to acknowledges the problem. Everyone I've talked to tells me that the problem is corrected.

But the calls keep coming.

It is, clearly enough, a case of smiling incompetence.

I suppose that smiling incompetence is preferable to snarling incompetence, but incompetence is incompetence.
So here it is, Monday morning, almost a week after all this started. The calls from Charter have not stopped. Tom is still on the phone with this morning's second attempt to get this straightened out. Charter doesn't seem to be able to solve it, no matter how many folks in how many departments he has contacted.

Somehow the fact that a communications company cannot communicate internally about something this simple does not fill one with confidence about their other abilities. I had heard a rumor this summer that Charter was going belly up. Needless to say, I won't be surprised.

At any rate, we are not recommending Charter to anyone these days.

Tom, as you recall, is a retired attorney. I am already planning how to spend the money we get from the lawsuit.

PS -- This is not just an annoyance. If these people can't get their act together -- and if Mike doesnt pay his bill or whatever (I happen to know they guy, a friend of the Screnocks) -- Charter will turn it over to a collection ageny and send out a nasty note to the credit agencies and ruin OUR credit ratings. We are not Charter customers, by the way.

Be lovely to have my credit rating destroyed because someone else defaulted on a bill from a company I don't even use. Or to have a couple of loan shark heavies at the front door. I suppose Cassidy and Sundance might protect us.

While Tom is on the phone, I am doing laundry and trying to get ready for my trip to Texas. I hope to get over to the library later to drop off some books, pick up some stuff and get at least a little bit of writing done.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Quick update for anyone who's checking

1) I am making progress of the second novel, working title Death on the Way of Perfection.

2) Jude called to say that the new history of Holy Hill book, for which I provided the text, should be out maybe by the end of the month. The book won't have my name on it (at my request), but I will be credited as the author in the acknowledgments. He promised to send me copies, and I will let you know when I see it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The pause that refreshes

Periodically I take a break from blogging to devote time to other things. I have posted a note on Facebook to let people know I am taking time out to work on another novel, and I put my Facebook account on hiatus for the interim.

This is to notify readers here that I am going to try to devote my creative energies to the novel for a while and do not intend to spend much time with the blog. I will probably be back, but for now I am doing other things.

Say a prayer for the new book!

Fall cleaning

I wasn't sure if I was going to have to work today or not, so I went in and got everything set up anyway. Roberta came in and will keep things going, but I will return to help her close up.

Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, I ran into Mary on my way out. She was a bit put out because, not knowing that I was coming in (since I didn't know if anyone else was going to show up), she had rushed to get there to get the money out of the safe for Whomever. So I got a bit of a reproof for not keeping her informed. She was right. I hadn't thought about the fact that all summer she has been getting the money to the staff Thursday and Friday mornings because those days are normally my days off. I thought I had told her that this week was different, but I must not have made it clear that I would handle the safe. I think we are clear on what will happen over the holiday weekend. Mary works very hard and I regret that my carelessness added to her stress this morning.

Anyway, for my day off, I went to Baraboo to get the district mail and paid a bill. I also dropped in to see Joe Screnock for a few minutes, because he had asked for some information about the library book sale coming up in a couple of weeks. I missed seeing Evelyn because she was in Madison meeting their daughter who was flying in from New Hampshire for the holiday weekend. Then I dropped some things off at the library and picked up a book that was on hold for Tom and one that was on hold for me.

Meanwhile, Tom had decided that the house had to be cleaned from top to bottom since Michelangelo is visiting. So I cleaned my bathroom, steam mopped the floor, vacuumed my room and straightened up. Tom took the area rugs from the living room and dining room (okay, they aren't rooms so much as areas) out and shampooed them. While he was doing that, I steam mopped the floors in the living and dining areas and the kitchen.

This mean furniture was all over the place, something that intrigued but did not please Cassidy and Sundance. It may not be obvious in that photo, but that is the dining table in the background, in the entrance hall for the nonce, with a couple of dining chairs in front. The cedar chest, almost invisible against the floor, normally serves as the coffee table and should be on the carpet in front of the sofa, which is out of sight.

The rugs seem to be drying quickly, and once they are back in place and all is returned to where it's supposed to be, the cats will settle down.

Until Michelangelo shows up ...

Surely not!

This is what my homepage weather report says for the holiday weekend. Check out Sunday night's low.

Wisconsin Dells, WI
Current: Cloudy
Wind: N at 0 mph
Humidity: 99%

Mostly Sunny
77° | 49°

Mostly Sunny
79° | 0°

Mostly Sunny
79° | 54°

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Chips and dip

With Michelangelo due to visit over the weekend, we are hoping we will all be able to go to the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Toss and Festival on Labor Day. We have gone for a number of years, including one year when Karl was visiting at the same time Michelangelo was here. Anyway, just so you will know what you are missing ...

From the Sauk Prairie Eagle:

Travel Channel looks into chips:

New show will highlight Prairie's largest event

Travel Channel host Andrew Zimmern is filmed Aug. 27 atop the large wooden "Trojan Cow" where chips are stored to let them dry out before this weekend's tossing event.

Photo Contributed by Rebecca Hildebrandt

Travel Channel host Andrew Zimmern is filmed Aug. 27 atop the large wooden "Trojan Cow" where chips are stored to let them dry out before this weekend's tossing event.

By Jeremiah Tucker, Sauk Prairie Eagle

Even if this weekend's Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival isn't the most well-attended in the venerable cow-dung heaving competition's 35-year history, it could be the most watched.

The Travel Channel's Andrew Zimmern, host of "Bizarre Foods," was in town Aug. 27 filming footage about the cow chip throw for an upcoming episode of his new series.

"He's starting a new show called 'Bizarre World,' and it's focusing on different customs in different parts of the world," said Rebecca Hildebrandt, co-chair of the chow chip committee. "The eighth one in the series will be on Wisconsin. He asked if we would be willing to be part of the show based on the cow chip throw and we said we would love to."

The episode is scheduled to air Oct. 27, Hildebrandt said.

This year's cow chip already has garnered more exposure than usual since Culver's partnered with the annual event to celebrate the company's 25th anniversary by bringing in Dennis DeYoung, the former lead singer of the '70s rock band Styx, to perform a free concert on the festival's grounds the night before Saturday's throw.

Both events will take place in Marion Park in Sauk City and on the grounds of Grand Avenue Elementary School adjacent to the park.

Zimmern won't actually attend the cow chip throw — although a film crew from "Bizarre World" will be there — but Hildebrandt said he interviewed a lot of people who work and participate in the event.

"He wanted to know about the history of festival, why it came to be and what it means to community," Hildebrandt said.

Terry Slotty, who's worked the event for 17 years and runs the competition, said he tried to give Zimmern as authentic a cow-chip experience as possible.

He took him to the field where the cow chips are collected every year and pointed out particularly fine specimens of cow dung.

"The chips have to be from grass-fed beef cattle," Slotty said.

Pies from corn-fed cows are too watery and dry out like newspaper, he explained, "They're too light to throw."

Slotty said he acted as if they were collecting for this year's event for the camera, but in reality the cow chips had been collected weeks ago to give them time to properly dry out before the event.

"People don't like to throw wet ones," Slotty said.

He showed Zimmern the shed where the chips are stored, the cow chip throw's large wooden Trojan Cow that's a staple of area parades and, finally, the throw itself.

A makeshift field was drawn and some local flingers, like past men's champion Greg Neumaier, were on hand to give pointers.

"He talked to all the people that were throwing, interacted with them and got their secret tips," Hildebrandt said.

Bill Wenzel Jr., who loaned his surveying equipment to measure the throws, said Zimmern's best throw was 143 feet.

In some years that would've been good enough to place him in the top 3.

"He did surprisingly well," Wenzel Jr. said.

Slotty said he thinks Zimmern surprised himself.

"He didn't think you could throw cow chips that far, that they could fly," Slotty said.

I note that the winners from this state contest go on to compete at the nationals in Beaver, Oklahoma next April.

And now you know more than you ever thought you would about cow chips.

BTW, a favorite candy treat made in Baraboo is the Cow Pie.