Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hanging by a ...

Peter brought home this photo of him at work at the Bigfoot Zipline Tours. I know what he's doing, but I ask you -- could they pay YOU enough to do this for ten to twelve hours a day?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bluebird Hill Cottage

I had a three-day weekend, and Tom and I took advantage of it by visiting Mineral Point.

Mineral Point is tucked in the rolling hills of Southwest Wisconsin in the area described as "driftless". Left untouched by the glaciers, minerals at the surface of the land could be readily discovered. The discovery of lead gave rise to the first "mineral rush" in the United States and Mineral Point grew to be the largest, most important settlement in the area.

In 1830 Mineral Point had a population greater than that of Milwaukee and Chicago combined. The Territory of Wisconsin came into being with the inauguration of Henry Dodge as the first governor on July 4, 1836 in Mineral Point. (The same year as Texas independence from Mexico.)

Some of the 19th century Cornish miners' stone houses have been restored at a historical site known as Pendarvis. In the 1960s artists, craftspeople and preservationists began restoration of more historic buildings. In 1971, Mineral Point became the first city in Wisconsin listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today it is worth a visit because of all the artists who work and sell their works as well, often in shops housed in some of the restored historic buildings. Unfortunately, the economy seems to have taken its toll, because there were fewer galleries than when we visited about three years ago and lots of empty storefronts on High Street. Tom got into an extended conversation with Frank Polizzi of Mulberry Pottery and wound up buying a small piece from him.

We stayed at Bluebird Hill Cottage, which is owned by Harriet Story, one of the local artists. She is a potter who lives in a barn a short distance from the cottage. The barn also serves as her studio, but she has a gallery in town. It turns out Harriet grew up in Georgia, although she moved to Wisconsin in the '60s with her husband. She even provided real Georgia peaches in our welcome basket.

The cottage was great. Built in the Prairie Style (think Frank Lloyd Wright), it had a stone fireplace, fully equipped kitchen, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, whirlpool, 2 patios with picnic table and came with the use of an 18-acre property with pond. Harriet only rents to one party at a time, so we had the place to ourselves. Well, ourselves, lots of birds, butterflies and dragonflies over the prairie flowers, chipmunks and rabbits on the lawn and a black poodle who was determined to play fetch as long as Tom was willing to cooperate.

We only stayed one night, but it would be a nice place to spend more time. Very peaceful and private with a lovely breeze up on the hill overlooking rolling terrain and picture-perfect farms with a distant backdrop of church towers and old mansions.

On the way back today we had intended to visit Taliesen, Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio near Spring Green. Most of the tours were already booked solid, so we decided to do that another day. We did visit Unity Chapel, established by his mother's family (the Lloyd Jones clan) and where most of the family is buried. Frank Lloyd Wright's tombstone is there, but his body was moved to Arizona by his second wife. The Unity Chapel cemetery is where Wright's mistress, Martha Borthwick Cheney, was buried in 1914 after she was murdered along with her two children and four others by a servant at Taliesen. Although there is no doubt about who committed the crime, Wisconsin's first mass murder, the motive remains a mystery.

Since we could not tour Taliesen, we stopped at a gallery in Spring Green and then headed home. Happily, we wound up in the small town of Plain just as their annual parade in honor of the fire department and EMS began. So we stayed and watched, shaking hands with a number of political candidates who were working the crowd and watching kids scramble for candy thrown from parade vehicles.

We stopped in Reedsburg for lunch, a little window shopping and finally made it home in time for me to take a badly needed nap. The indefatigable Tom did a bit of mowing while Sundance and I snoozed.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Little things

1) I got the photo of Miss Brinkley Marie Ann Broccolo. Such an adorable little thing!

2) Someone bought a book the other day. That's the first sale in a few months, but the nice thing is that it pushed my royalty payment over the point where they actually pay me. So I will be getting a little check. Which is a nice thing.

3) I got paid yesterday and see that I have received a little raise. I did nothing to earn it except survive the six-month probation. Again, it's not much at a time (it amounts to maybe another thousand a year), but it sure is nice. I also now have credit for some sick days. No paid vacation until after the first of the year, but I will also get another raise at that time. Little by slowly, as a friend here says ...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Grump, grump

1) I was looking up some reviews for a book that Kathie Holly (the other bookmobile person and a retired school teacher) had recommended to me. The book won a number of regional awards, was nominated for national prizes and had been made into a Hallmark TV movie. The vast majority of the brief reviews I found were very positive. The handful that were negative all seem to have been written by high school kids who had been "forced" to read the book for class. Their complaints sounded so much alike that I suspect a group got together and wrote a template for them to follow. What was more interesting to me was that all of these comments included grammatical errors, misspelled words, sentence fragments and so on. That did not make their complaints sound well-grounded, I must admit.

2) Does anyone else notice how bad the so-called religious and biblical programs are on the History, History International, National Geographic and the Discovery Channels?
First off, they have about fifteen minutes of content that they stretch to an hour by constantly repeating the same text before and after every commercial break, and they use the same video clips again and again.

Second, no one seems to do even basic fact-checking for them. A recent program on the Ark of the Covenant several times used the example of the death of Uzzah (see II Samuel 6) to prove how dangerous the Ark was. Yet they always spoke of this in terms of things Moses did, including how Moses had the Ark placed in a tent afterward to protect the people from the Ark. I suppose no one noticed that the story is not about Moses but David, who lived about 400 years later.

Third, they take quotes from various scholars and experts out of context and make it sound like whatever they want it to sound like. They do not indicate whether or not the scholar or expert is actually recognized as such or simply claims to be such. And half the time they wind up expounding some crazy theory that the producers simply tell as if it were as good as any reputable theory -- and conclude with a statement that basically says, "No one can prove this ISN'T true or DIDN'T happen -- so maybe it did." If you pay close attention to most of the programs, there is usually one sane person who points out all the reasons why the absurd is absurd, but reason is overwhelmed by the vastly over-represented voices of those who are committed to the more entertaining (that is to say, more marketable) fantasy.

Fourth, they speak as though there is a single Christian perspective on all sorts of things. This was most obvious in a program I watched recently in which the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) was spoken of as some esoteric collection containing many books that were not accepted in the Christian Bible. This is demonstrably false, since the Catholic and Orthodox churches still use translations that include those texts. It is true that the Jewish authorities after the fall of Jerusalem rejected the texts because they had been written after the time the rabbis believed prophecy had ceased. When Martin Luther and other reformers did their vernacular translations in the sixteenth century, they adopted the Jewish selection of texts (though NOT in the order found in Jewish books). Except for one passing reference, viewers would never guess that for almost 3/4 of the history of the Christian church, the vast majority of believers accepted books no longer found in Protestant Bibles but still found in Catholic and Orthodox and other ancient churches to this day.

Fifth, they seem to spend all sorts of money on programs about things like Nostradamus and Stonehenge and the pyramids but never a penny examining things like the pre-Colombian civilizations that existed in what is now the United States. You can watch them every day for a year and never learn anything about the mound builders in places like Louisiana, West Virginia and Illinois. These are fascinating things about people who actually existed here and who left impressive evidence of their level of sophistication. Instead they will endlessly repeat drivel about how the Kensington Stone (almost certainly a nineteenth-century fraud about Vikings in Minnesota) proves that the Knights Templar (about whom they have many historically absurd programs) brought the Holy Grail (about which even more absurd programs) to the New World. So instead of learning about real things that can be documented and analyzed, viewers learn totally speculative stories about people who may or may not have existed and for whom no concrete and irrefutable evidence exists. And they dare to call themselves the History Channel? And to broadcast this stuff under the (once) repsected and respectable name of National Geographic?
What can I say? I shouldn't drink coffee in the afternoon and then turn on the television. Or I should stick to Phineas and Ferb! They aren't real either, of course, but at least I know that.

Friday, July 16, 2010

There it is

Although the house has been here since 2006, it is only now showing up on the satellite images. That's us, there in that little square. Tom and his brother Steve own 50 acres of what was once their family's large farm, in the family since about 1844. The property is divided up into a shared piece of about 25 acres, and each of them individually owns about 12 acres. Steve and his wife live in New Jersey, so there is little chance of them moving out here to become near neighbors. So we have lots of privacy. As you can see, except for our yard and a bit of clearing, the place is heavily wooded. The field across the road is farmed by Jerry, and that is Rich and Peggy's place adjacent to the field and visible in the picture, too.

Not real exciting, but there it is.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Happy Feast to the Carmelites

July 16 is the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I wish all the friars, nuns, brothers, sisters, Secular and Lay Carmelites a happy and delightful day.

Don't cry for me, Argentina!


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Integrity and accountability

A number of my friends forward me all sorts of e-mails, and you need to know that I usually don't even bother to open those that are obviously forwarded to everyone on your mailing list. A few years back my computer crashed, having picked up a virus from one of these messages that had been around the world and back, and Tom spent the better part of all day rebuilding the computer. Some things I lost and never recovered. So I am cautious. If you send me something that is clearly just from you to me, I look at it, of course. And sometimes I forward things myself, I admit. But I don't do the scatter-shot thing.

Anyway, one of the folks who does this is a Carmelite, now in Africa. Most of the time I don't open the messages. I can tell from the subject line that they are just pious ditties or cute pictures of cats or political tirades. Yesterday, however, he did something that I admire and wish others would do.

First, he sent out an email with the title "An Idea Whose Time Has Come." I didn't read it, but just a little later, he sent out another e-mail with the subject line, "A Correction to the Earlier E-mail".

Curious, I looked at it and he said, basically, "I have discovered that the email I sent about [previous topic] is false. If you click on this address, you will learn more about it. I apologize for not checking the facts and for wasting your time."

The site he linked to is one that investigates all sorts of rumors on the internet and points out what is true, what is false, what can be verified and why. It does not just assert that something is true or false: it explains why and it provides verifiable outside sources so you can check up on it. It seems to be fairly neutral as to who it debunks -- liberals, conservatives, religious, atheists or whatever. They could be the old Sgt. Joe Friday on Dragnet: "Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts."

Anyway, I thought it was very honest, humble and accountable that Gene went online so fast to correct his error. So few people bother to check up on anything, and the internet made something attributed [note my caution!] to Winston Churchill all too true, and all too destructive: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

Sadly, even though Gene did what he could to take the false information back, it is impossible to get it all back.

A Chasidic tale vividly illustrates the danger of improper speech:
A man went about the community telling malicious lies about the rabbi. Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, "Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds." The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly. When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, "Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers."

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Weekend

After a week of beautiful weather, dry and breezy with warm and pleasant temperatures, the holiday weekend is upon us. The Dells, of course, is filled to the brim with tourists. The weather -- Saturday, sunny and hot, Sunday, chance of scattered thunderstorms, Monday a repeat of Sunday. Sigh!

Lucy and Armand are due around noon today, bringing Kojak (their dog) with them. Tom has already taken off for Portage for the first of two parades he is in, to be followed by handing out leaflets at the Concert in the Park this evening. He is hoping Lucy and Armand will arrive in time (and in the mood) to join him down there for the parade and all. Charlotte, one of the librarians, will be riding a float along with a group of ladies she swims with, all dressed in swimsuits from about 1900. I am hoping to get down there to cheer Tom and Charlotte along, but that depends on hosting duties.

Peter will be working today and tomorrow at the zipline, but he is still abed right now since his shift doesn't start until the afternoon. It is the holiday weekend, and in tourist-land, that means work for the locals. Maybe he will do well with tips from the crowds.

Helen and Jay are due sometime Sunday evening on their way back to St. Paul from a wedding in Chicago. We assume they will be here for dinner, and we are planning a traditional Fourth picnic. Brats, hot dogs, potato salad, watermelon and so on. Of course, the weather may mean we consume our picnic in the dining room. Tom's Sunday parade will be at noon, and he plans to be back for dinner. He does, however, have to go out leafleting again that evening before the fireworks in Baraboo. Weather, of course, permitting.

I think everyone will head to their respective homes on Monday morning. Monday is a holiday for me, but it looks like the weather will not make it very holiday-ish.