Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy, happy, happy!

Happy New Year!

 And remember not to say the sky's the limit
when there are footprints on the moon.
May you soar in 2015!

Ten random facts

To finish out 2014, here are ten random facts about me, in no particular order and of no particular significance.
  1. I am right-handed but left-leaning.
  2. I can recite my Discover Card number (16 digits), my library card number (14 digits) and my online banking sign-in number (12 digits) but I have to stop and think to remember my cell phone number.
  3. I swam in the Mediterranean before I ever set eyes on the Atlantic Ocean, even though I grew up in the United States.
  4. I am a native English-speaker; am fairly fluent in Spanish; passed graduate reading exams in Latin, French, German and Koine [New Testament] Greek; and have preached a homily I composed in Kiswahili.
  5. I know how to fold cloth napkins to look like roses, turkeys, swans and trees.
  6. I have a serious thyroid condition, because of which I once weighed almost 300 pounds.
  7. I can still sing the song I learned as a kid in Vacation Bible School that lists the books of the New Testament in order. For that matter, I can still sing the Jiminy Cricket "Encyclopedia" song.
  8. I taught aerobics classes for priests, brothers and seminarians.
  9. I have a Bachelor of Adequacy degree from the International University of Nescience.
  10. I am a passport-holding citizen of Ladonia, where I am known as Lord Michael Dodd.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


At least it's sunny.

-1. One below, Fahrenheit
-18.3 Celsius

And that's all I'll say about that.

(Sure it is!)

Any New Year's Resolutions?

I usually don't make resolutions, although I sometimes do set goals.

According to a government website, these are among the most popular resolutions people make this time of year:
  • Lose Weight
  • Volunteer to Help Others*
  • Quit Smoking*
  • Get a Better Education*
  • Get a Better Job*
  • Save Money*
  • Get Fit
  • Eat Healthy Food
  • Manage Stress
  • Manage Debt*
  • Take a Trip
  • Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle*
  • Drink Less Alcohol*
*I volunteer one day each week as an English tutor and also at the local library and on other projects on an ad hoc basis. I have no personal debt, do not smoke and do not drink alcohol. I recycle, generally live frugally and save money. I am over-educated as it is! I am happily retired.
That leaves mostly things that seem to fall under a general category of healthy living. Eating healthy food and getting proper exercise ("get fit") undoubtedly are means to maintaining a healthy weight. They also help reduce stress, as taking a trip might do. 

All of those things -- healthy food choices, exercise, traveling -- involve a certain level of stress, but not all stress is dis-tress. These things are already part of my life, but they are on-going concerns.

I do not include a goal to publish another book this year, but it is a dream to at least finish writing another one.

So my real goal: be/stay healthy as I enter my Medicare years in 2015! And my Fitbit is already helping! Thanks, Mama! 

I do admit that the card below rings a little true.

Monday, December 29, 2014


According to Merriam-Webster Online, widdershins -- which comes in at number seven on their list of Top Ten Funny-Sounding and Interesting Words -- means "in a left-handed or contrary direction; counterclockwise." They offer this example:
"And the waves beat upon the one hand, and upon the other the dead leaves ran; and the clouds raced in the sky, and the gulls flew widdershins." — Robert Louis Stevenson, The Song of the Morrow, 1896
Although my research shows disagreement about the origin of the term and its varied meanings over time, according to Merrian-Webster, "English speakers got widdershins from an old German word meaning 'to go against,' and by the mid-1500s we were using the word as we use it today – as a synonym for counterclockwise."

I recall first encountering the word when I was seven or eight in a book of fairy tales in which a young woman -- probably a princess, since it was a fairy tale -- disappeared when she ran widdershins around a church to fetch a ball that had gone astray. I can't recall if she encountered a dragon or was turned into one, but I recall that "funny-sounding and interesting word" widdershins very well.

It came to mind today because I noticed that I was walking widdershins around the basement while waiting for something to load on the computer. Which got me to wondering why one walks a particular direction, why NASCAR racers drive widdershins around the track, for example, and so on. So I went looking for an explanation and found too many conflicting ones to be of any use.

I was most intrigued, however, by this additional bit of information from Merriam-Webster:  "For the first 200 years of the word's life, however, it had another meaning as well – it was used to describe that particular kind of bad hair day when unruly hair stands on end or simply falls the wrong way."

My father, who cut my hair until I was 18, complained that my hair grew backwards.
My mother tells me that my grandfather used to make the same complaint about my father's hair. By the time I knew my father, he did not have enough hair for me to tell which way it grew. 
I never could make sense of what that meant. To me, if hair was growing backwards, that meant it was growing into my head and not out of it. Of course, what he meant was that it was falling the wrong way. Today I am painfully aware of this truth since I can never get a decent haircut, at least not one that looks good for more than two or three days. My hair has cowlicks in all directions. The hair on the left side of my head behaves normally and lies down. The hair on the right side prefers to do a Dagwood Bumstead imitation and grow out and up.

So now at the ripe old age of 64, I find out that the problem is my hair grows widdershins. I will try that on the stylist next time I go in and see what kind of reaction I get.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sunday so far

We woke to sunny and cold today -- 14 degrees (-10 C). The friends who had planned to be here early to hunt didn't show up until after 9:00. They said they got up about 5:00, got ready and then looked at the thermometer -- and decided to go for a hot breakfast instead. They will be here most of the day, but the middle of the day is not the best time for deer. I think the boys who are learning to hunt will learn two main lessons -- deer hunting can be cold and it can be boring.

Tom and I thought about going somewhere, but not much is happening on this between-holidays Sunday except the last gasp of post-Christmas shopping. The Chazen Museum in Madison has an exhibit I want to visit, but today didn't seem like the day to do that. So we plan to make a trip down there later to see the exhibit -- a modern illuminated manuscript of the Bible done by the monks at St. John's in Collegeville -- and to use our Christmas gift card for a meal at P.F. Chang's.

So our big trip was grocery shopping. That had to be done. At least walking up and down the aisles at Wally World helped me get in some of my steps for the day.

Happy birthday!

Today is my dear sister-in-law's birthday, so join me in wishing Cynthia a wonderful day!

My brother is very fortunate to have found her, and she has been a wonderful addition to the Dodd clan. This year she has been helping care for four generations -- for my brother as he recovers from the vicious assault he suffered at work last year; her parents who are dealing with the issues of aging and have had some hospitalizations; a daughter who is under a lot of restrictions because of a high-risk pregnancy; and grandchildren -- either providing regular babysitting services for those who live nearby or spending every other week far from her own home caring for the pregnant daughter's son and making sure he gets to and from school. Plus all the regular stuff she continues to do as wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, homemaker ...

I wish her a happy birthday and a more restful coming year. She deserves it!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Soggy Saturday

Although the meteorologists had predicted possible snow several days this week, we never got any. Instead we have had rain and fog. Except for yesterday, which was absolutely beautiful -- temperatures in the 40s and sunny. It was a good day to walk in the woods, which I did, while Tom and Dave cut down more dead trees and Dave hauled off more wood to use for fuel. Today it is more what we called raw weather in Boston. Well, rawr weathah, actually.

We found out that the cause of the power outage the other night was an inebriated driver, someone unfamiliar with the area and the turns on Berry Road, who slammed into a power line pole and took it down. That particular pole is a frequent victim of drivers who miss the turn or slide off when the road is icy. The people who live on that part of the road have put up lots of reflectors along the curve to try to warn people, but some folks just drive over the reflectors on their way to the main target. Tom and Dave plan to approach the town to do something better in terms of warning signs. The driver, by the way, although trapped in the vehicle for a while, was not seriously injured.

As for the loud boom we heard from the people shooting Tannerite for the explosive effect, it seems that they were using 80 pounds of it -- more than 12 times the legal amount. And apparently the blast did do some damage to nearby homes. Details later as events warrant. (Which means we will probably never hear what happened to the perpetrators.)

Wisconsin has an abbreviated deer season for young people during the Christmas school vacation. A friend of ours is due here this afternoon and tomorrow with his son and two grandsons. They came out the other day so Tom could walk them around the property, show them the lay of the land and the boundaries. I told him that yesterday would have been the day to come, it was so nice. But this being Wisconsin, I don't think people expect warm weather for December hunting. 

Now back to stepping! This morning I earned my Marathon Badge, meaning I have walked 26 miles since activating the Fitbit Monday evening.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas cycles

I am not thinking of those kinds of cycles ...

One of my nieces recently remarked that she didn't agree with people who say Christmas is just for children. It got me thinking about my own feelings about Christmas. I suppose in my life, Christmas has meant different things at different times.

There was that early period when Santa Claus was real and Christmas was magical, a time of year when things that did not happen the rest of the year just happened and kept happening. There were presents and lights and candy and songs. It was great and the fact that "Christmas Comes but Once a Year" made it all the better. (I remember that cartoon very well. It always made me a little sad, to be honest.)

Once I got into school, which I enjoyed tremendously, Christmas brought the added joy of an extended break. So even though I liked school, I also liked the time off to enjoy all the stuff that Christmas brought along with it -- the trips to Houston to see Santa and to look at all the lavishly decorated picture windows in the stores and to drive around town at night and look at everyone's Christmas trees.

Even learning that there is no Santa Claus (not even sure when that happened) didn't remove all the goodness, but it did make a difference. The presents that appeared under the tree no longer had quite the magical touch to them when I knew that my parents (lovely, generous people) did in fact get them from Sears or Montgomery Ward. Because I was growing up, the presents objectively got better, but the sparkle was not the same. The special nature of Christmas became more about the time off from school, a sort of mid-year break, a mini-summer vacation without the swimming. Summer also came once a year, and it lasted longer. And my birthday also brought presents my family bought for me. It's all good, but things had changed a bit.

The next change I am aware of came my first year at Michigan State. Christmas was wonderful because I got to go home to Texas, spend time with my closest friends and family and be the college-guy. Best of all, that was the first year that I experienced Christmas more from the perspective of gift-giving than  just receiving. I suppose I had given gifts before, but my memories of that Christmas season, shopping for lots of people and trying to find the perfect affordable item for each one, paid for with money I had earned -- that made it special. I suspect that this aspect of Christmas-for-grown-ups (especially for parents) is one reason my niece says it is not just for children.

Then there were the thirty years in the monastery, where Christmas had its major focus on the religious aspects and lots of traditions that were unique to that life. It was quite different from the Christmas of my childhood, and although there were gifts, those took on much less significance. After ordination, Christmas often became a major workday -- celebrating several Masses, hearing lots of confessions and then finally collapsing in the recreation room with the community at the end of the day for a drink while exchanging token gifts before dinner. In those days, the day after Christmas was our real holiday -- a relaxed prayer schedule and no extra work!

Now Christmas feels very low key. I enjoy the things Tom and I do to try to make it different each year when the family shows up. But I also find it a lot of work, and when we have the place to ourselves and the cats like this year, that is very good, too. I have more appreciation of the "Silent Night" aspect to things and appreciate not having to get caught up in the many stresses associated with what the season has become for us as a society.

So cycles -- magic, sparkle, presents received and given, friends and family to visit or to miss, hustle and bustle and finally silence and peace.

No big message here, even though this did go on longer than I had intended! Just thinking. Always a dangerous thing for me to do when sitting before a keyboard.

Stop me before I think again!

And may this holiday season be a good turn in the cycle for you!

Fitbit tidbits

Several times yesterday when I tried to sync my Fitbit (so my computer would tell me how I was doing step-wise), I was unable to get online. I would get a message saying they were down for "regularly scheduled maintenance" and made a promise that the Fitbits were keeping track of things even while the maintenance was underway. They would return shortly.

Which they did. Well, perhaps not shortly but eventually.

This happened several times, however, yesterday. This morning (Friday, December 26) I have had no problems so far.

I wonder if what happened was that their site was crashed because all the people who got Fitbits for Christmas were trying to log in and sign up at the same time. This often happens with things of this nature. The "regularly scheduled maintenance" message would be a way to note that they were doing something about it while making it sound like no big deal. A good idea lest your newbies get totally frustrated and think their Fitbit is shot already.

Who knows? At any rate, I am stepping away and the little dingus is keeping track.

Feast of Stephen

Today (in the Western Church, tomorrow in the East) is the Feast of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. (It is also Boxing Day in some places, named for an old tradition of giving Christmas boxes to servants and tradespeople.) I wish all those named Stephen, Steven and Steve a happy feast today. 

For someone with such a common name as Michael, I seem to have a life filled with Steve/Steven/Stephens: my best friend for many years, Steve Yarbrough; my roommate at MSU, Steve Wagner; my great friend in the Carmelites, Steve Payne; a dear friend from my time in Maryland, Steve Comeau; and countless others. I might mention that the ones named have all had quite successful lives in academia or business, and I am honored to count them among my friends.

When the Church was arranging the liturgical calendar in the days when historical niceties like accuracy and details were not a concern, Stephen's feast was placed immediately after the celebration of the birth of Jesus for a couple of reasons. One was because Stephen was considered the first witness (the meaning of the Greek word we translate as martyr) of who Jesus was. Therefore to celebrate his memory right after the joys of Christmas was a reminder of the possible cost of bearing witness and a promise of reward for those who endured in faith until the end, even when persecuted.

I will leave it to others to point out why his example of prayer for his persecutors is important today.

White deer

We have lots of deer where we live, but none of these white ones. I don't know where this video was shot, but there are an unusual number of albino white-tailed deer in some counties of northern Wisconsin. Perhaps no one has spent as much time following these white "ghosts of the forest" as photographer Jeff Richter. He has committed hundreds of images of white deer to film over many years of photographing nature and wildlife and produced this lovely book.

It contains pictures of albino bucks, some in velvet, does, yearlings and mixed groups. There are brown does with white fawns and white does with brown fawns. The images include other wildlife such as squirrels, that sometimes have albinism or melanism (black coloring). As I say, we don't have white deer (or at least, haven't seen any), but white squirrels do visit us from time to time and there are also completely black squirrels along our road. I would love to get a photo of a black one and a white one in our back yard some day.

Seemed like a nice winter note to share, even though we did not have a White Christmas this year.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Eve and Christmas morning

My friend Lee included this suggestion in his Christmas Eve email: 
Make sure you take a minute, before you go to bed, to step outside and listen to the quiet for a moment.  If you do it will make the bed even more "nice & toasty" than it already is.
I took his advice and went out onto the deck for a few minutes before going to bed. It was too warm for snow, so no White Christmas. And too overcast to see the Star of Bethlehem or any suspicious flying sleigh-like objects. Since we live in the country, it was quiet, though, the only noise being the wind gently rustling the dried leaves on the red oaks. I listened, was calm and went to sleep.

About 2:30, I was awakened by a great silence. The power had gone off, which meant my white noise machine, the refrigerator, the furnace and all the other little noisemakers in the house had gone silent. Tom called in the outage and I crawled back under my quilt. It took about two hours for the power to return, but during the interim it was utterly silent. In the house, of course, I heard no rustling leaves or anything else. To be honest, I didn't really fall asleep soundly again until the power and the sounds came back.

After breakfast, Tom and I went out to put up a No Trespassing sign at the end of a trail he had just opened up in the woods. (No, not a guard cat sign.) That sounds somewhat Scrooge-like for Christmas morning, but the trail ends where a snowmobile trail runs along the back of the property. Tom wants to make sure snowmobilers don't get lost by taking the wrong fork in the road at that point. He gives permission for the track to come through the back of the property, but we don't want the machines and their noise up nearer the house. It was the first time I had walked the new path and it is a nice, winding way down the ridge. 

We came back along another loop he has made with the guys who are cutting trees from our woods to use for fuel. It is sad to see how many trees we have lost to the oak wilt, but the result of all the clearing is a more park-like effect. While the weather allows -- and until the mosquitoes and other predators arrive in the summer -- these paths will be great places for me to get in some of my 10,000 steps each day.

Our Christmas gift to ourselves this year is a membership in the Wisconsin State Historical Society. Among other things, this includes free admission to a number of state historical sites. We hope to take advantage of this and be motivated by it during the coming year to visit those we have not already seen. One of the sites is the Madeline Island Museum way up at the tip of Wisconsin. Just like our trip to Door County back in September, this should make for a pleasant getaway after the heavy tourist season ends. 

May your holiday reveal only joy and peace!

This reminded me of a cross stitch sampler I did years ago.  I didn't get the joke at first and just thought they had made a mistake. 

Well, der!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Not this year

Normally about this time every year, I would be feeling like this guy, if not exactly looking like him. (I think I do have those shoes and that hat, to be honest.) We would be doing final preparations for Helen, Jay and the kids to arrive. Beds would be made with fresh linens, bathrooms scrubbed, floors swept and mopped. The tree would be set up but not decorated. Lucy wants to make sure that everyone helps decorate it on Christmas Eve. The makings of the first of several meals would be lying about in yet-unprepared bits in refrigerator and pantry. The cats would be wandering around sniffing packages and eying the tree suspiciously.

But this year Helen and Jay are off to Greece and obligations to in-laws and caring for babies and longer distances to be traveled have combined to keep the kids away. So today is more relaxed. I will probably still manage to get tangled up in some way, but at least it will just be Tom and the cats who witness my discomfiture.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A bit fit

 My mother got me a Fitbit Flex for Christmas. For those not familiar with that, it is a device that one wears on the wrist. It tracks movement 24 hours a day, including sleep patterns. It has a simple display of 5 LED lights which indicate the number of steps taken in a day, and it vibrates to indicate that your goal has been reached. I picked it up yesterday and got it set up. This was a bit more complicated than I expected, but it got done.

So today was my first full day using it, and I am happy to say, I got in the recommended 10,000 steps. Now to see if I can keep that up. 

I also admit to being a bit startled when I hit my goal and the thing vibrated on my arm.

One nice thing is that when Tom built my office, he installed a counter as well as a desk. I asked for that arrangement because I had liked working in a similar space in the library. So I can sit and work at the desk, but I can also move my laptop onto the counter and do some tasks there, which allows me to walk while working.

Obsessive compulsive much?


We picked up the television this morning. After we got it home, I called a friend who has served me well in the past for getting anonymous gifts to local individuals who can use some assistance. She thought of a family immediately, and we plan to take the television -- still in its box -- by her house later today so that it can arrive under somebody's Christmas tree in time to make the season bright.

My arrangement with her has always been that I do not know who receives my donation and that they do not know where it comes from.

And that's that.
From our house to yours
with wishes for all the joys of the season
and a Happy New Year!
Michael, Tom,  Sundance and Cassidy
Photograph by Tom Scharbach

Monday, December 22, 2014

Well, now ...

On Friday, I posted about the television set that my father won a week before I was born. [Click here to refresh your memory.]

The last paragraph of that post reads: 
We recently changed our television service provider and have been entered in a drawing for another 42 inch television. Maybe the spirit of my father -- who was always winning things like that -- will intercede for us so that we win. Because that's what we most need -- another big television besides the one in the basement and the one in the living room.
This afternoon, Tom got a phone call from the Reedsburg Utility Commission, our provider, to let him know that he won the television. Since he won a rifle in another drawing back in September, we wondered if this would be a good time for him to go out and buy some lottery tickets. But he figures his spate of good luck is over and done with now.

We don't need another television. But after discussing it with the person on the phone, we decided to take it. It is too big to ship anywhere, but we figure an opportunity to donate it locally will come up soon enough. Meanwhile, I can only assume that my father's spirit is snickering somewhere. (Don't tell my mother that, because it does not fit in with her understanding of what happens to the deceased between the time they die and the general judgement at the end of time.)

Saturday, December 20, 2014


It may be hard to believe, but it took me three trips to deliver eight little packages of candy to the neighbors this morning. The first trip at 9:00 found only two houses where people seemed to be up and about. The next trip at 10:30 got one more done. The final trip at 2:00 picked up five more. There is still one I haven't caught at home today. I will try again tomorrow.

[PS -- I encountered no explosives or other dangers.]

Tomorrow I need to make a bit more candy. The woman who used to work with me on the bookmobile is no longer able to drive, and Monday I plan to take her to lunch and then help her run any errands she has. I will also take a box of candy for her and her husband.  

Naturally it will be in the thirties and raining on Monday.

Ho, ho, ho!

Saturday sundries

Tomorrow is the solstice, meaning the days will start getting longer. Today the sunrise (hidden behind clouds) was at 7:29 a.m. Sunset will be at 4:25 p.m.  Around here, days will be longer because the sun is setting later. The sunrises don't start getting earlier until the first week of January.

Also, we don't expect to see much of the solstice sun mentioned in that little verse on the side. It is supposed to be cloudy all day tomorrow. We woke to flurries and another light dusting of snow this morning. We are not sure whether we will have a white Christmas or not. The forecast calls for snow and rain between now and then, making it a tossup. We don't have to deal with any traveling, so it doesn't matter that much to us.

Shortly after noon yesterday, the house was shaken by a loud blast. I posted about a similar experience November 29. [Click here to refresh your memory.] Again I went outside and, seeing no particular cause, assumed it was a sonic boom.

This morning's paper brought light to the subject:
An explosion Friday in the town of Delton was intentional, the Sauk County Sheriff’s Department said.
About 12:10 p.m., the Sauk County Sheriff Communications center was called about a loud explosion with accompanying black smoke near County Highway P and Birchwood Road in the Town of Delton.
The location and source of the explosion was located nearby, and it was found that the residents had intentionally caused the explosion by the use of a firearm and tannerite while on private property.
Tannerite is a legal explosive purchased as two ingredients that have to be mixed before an explosion can occur. It will not explode with a fuse, but will if hit by a bullet. It is used primarily to make exploding targets for firearms practice so those practicing can see if they hit the target without having to walk and check on the target.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the recommended use of Tannerite is in one pound increments, and in this case, it appears that the residents used well in excess of that amount, the release said.
The location of the blast is about a mile and a half away from us. No charges are expected to be filed unless further investigation determines that they were using a prohibited amount of Tannerite.

Want so see what a Tannerite explosion looks like? This guy is using only half a pound of the stuff mixed with flour, and the folks near us were using much more. So what you see here is quite tame compared to what we heard.


In another hour or so, I will head out to make my candy deliveries. I hope to encounter no explosions along the way.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The very model

My friend, the editorial director for ICS Publications, sent this along today. Even if you don't get all the references, I think you will enjoy it.

Idiot box

One week before I was born on Friday, May 19, 1950, my father walked into a store in Atlanta and was the millionth customer or some such thing. He won a television set. When I ran across this image on a blog today, I thought at first that it was our set. Ours did look a lot like this, although as I recall, it had doors on the front that closed over the screen to protect it when it was not in use. 

I grew up, therefore, always having a television in the house. In those days of yore, when the occasional wandering apatasaur might topple your antenna, there were not so many stations, however. For most of my childhood, we only got one station with much clarity, and it was NBC. ABC, CBS and the University of Houston educational channel could be viewed only through heavy veils of snow, if at all.

The screen on that major piece of furniture was fairly small, too, although I don't recall exactly how small. The television was the center of attention in the den in the house where I grew up. My father built a set of bookcases that surrounded it, and set up a stereo as well. It was an early entertainment center, I suppose. 

On the wall across from the desk in my basement office as I write is a 42-inch flat-screen Samsung TV that gets dozens, maybe hundreds of channels. It probably weighs a quarter of what that old set did.

We recently changed our television service provider and have been entered in a drawing for another 42 inch television. Maybe the spirit of my father -- who was always winning things like that -- will intercede for us so that we win. Because that's what we most need -- another big television besides the one in the basement and the one in the living room.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The robot

Since there have been a couple of comments about the robot, I thought I would put up a brief video of Sundance watching it.This is from a previous post that some of you saw back in July. If you did not, you can read that post and see a couple of other pictures by clicking here. I was more interested in her reaction than in the robot itself, so I did not keep the camera on it the whole time. You can see how shiny it makes the floors, though!

Thursday tasks

Last night and this morning I got the neighbors' candy (mostly) done. The peppermint-flavored fudge never wants to set well, and I may make another batch using even less peppermint to see if that will help. It tastes good, but the fudge itself is a bit sticky. I will make the second batch later this afternoon and see if it turns out. If so, we will be on track to deliver candy this weekend.

Tom had a lot of errands and things that took him out of the house this morning and early afternoon, which gave me (and the robot mopper) a chance to clean floors. This time of year it can be a challenge, between snow and rain and salt and mud. Sundance looked a bit askance at the robot, but she decided it wasn't going to mess with her catnip scratcher-box and let it be.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Teach a teacher

Today the woman I tutor told me that she and her family were recently at a mall, and her husband was having some pain in one eye. He wanted to go to a vision center and make an appointment. When they got there, he asked her to make the appointment for him because her English is so much better than his. But she said, "No, you do it. That way you will learn."

When he started explaining to the receptionist what he needed, their seven-year-old son -- who is bilingual -- stopped him.

"No, you want to get help for pain. You said pay."

Her husband got embarrassed and said he couldn't do it right.

The little boy said, "No, that's okay. You can do it."

And then he did.

Sounds like the whole family is teaching one another.

Ripples in the pond ...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas presence

Click on image to enlarge.

Because of a concatenation of circumstances, this year no one will be coming here for Christmas. Since no one will be present, we do not have to wrap presents, everything having been taken care of via mail.

Some years we let ourselves get completely carried away with gift wrap. One year we were so amused by Martha Stewart's absurdities that we did horribly elaborate wrappings as a joke, with all sorts of bric-a-brac. 

Then there was the year we had a Christmas-south-of-the-border theme. All gifts were wrapped in plain brown paper and tied up with red string to look like they had been shipped. We found images of Mexican stamps online and printed them onto labels to affix to the packages. Here are a few of them tucked under the tree, which was decorated with dozens of paper flowers we had made in the weeks before the holidays.

 It was fun but ridiculous. Rebecca said those gifts looked too nice to open. Not what anyone said, you will notice, about our faux Martha Stewart creations ...

Rachel weeps

Today's news of the tragedies in Yemen and Pakistan cannot help calling to mind Jeremiah 31: 15 -- This is what the LORD says: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."

That is the passage quoted in Matthew 2:18 in reference to the story of Herod's destruction of the innocent children of Bethlehem in his effort to secure his own power by destroying the child Jesus. There is, by the way, no mention of any such event outside of the Bible. The story was easy for people to believe, however, given Herod's deserved reputation for murdering even family members he perceived as threats.

When there is a school shooting or other event that leads to large-scale death of children, Christians naturally think of the innocents of Bethlehem. As we should, because whatever the historicity of that particular event, there is no doubt that throughout history and to our own day, the powerful often willingly destroy even children in order to maintain themselves. 

Whether children die at the hands of terrorists, at the hands of an armed mental patient, at the hands of a frightened and confused police officer or are allowed to die of hunger and disease because those who have much refuse to share what they have, the story is still the same. Wealth, power, perceived (often mis-perceived) personal and national security -- in the name of all these, innocents die daily and most of their suffering goes unnoticed by those of us who have power, wealth, comfort and security. We shake our heads and change nothing.

No wonder Rachel weeps.

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah [Chanukah] starts on the Hebrew calendar date of 25 Kislev, and lasts for eight days. This year it begins at sunset Tuesday evening, December 16 and runs to nightfall on December 24.

I assume we all know by now what the Festival of Lights is about, so I won't do the whole exposition. This time of year Tom always keeps his eye on the television schedule for the only Hanukkah movie he knows (not, however, the only one there is) -- Disney's Full-Court Miracle from 2003. Think of a Jewish version of all the Christmas movies you see on television, and you have the idea. 

One-line summary: Jewish kids at a Hebrew school help restore the confidence of a black coach who helps them learn to play basketball while God comes through with a miracle to keep the lights burning long enough for victory over a rival school.

Monday, December 15, 2014


This morning we got the stuff I need to make the candy we give the neighbors every year for the holidays. I had planned to start working on it today, and I may yet do that. But I feel sapped of all energy. 

No idea why. I slept well -- though with lots of dreams. Not nightmares, just dreams. I did my usual morning routine: breakfast, reading, meditation. I haven't done any physical exercise yet, and some time on the stationary bike may help.

Maybe it is just the fact that we have had several overcast, foggy, gloomy days in a row. Maybe it is that I have a dentist appointment tomorrow. 

Maybe "why" doesn't matter.

At any rate, I need to get the candy done, packed and distributed fairly soon because The Day will be upon us before I know it. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

John of the Cross

Although Catholics celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent today, December 14 is usually the feast of St. John of the Cross. So the Carmelite community around the world kept his memory yesterday. Readers of this blog know that John played a big part in my life as a Discalced Carmelite friar and continued to do so after I left the community. Many of the articles I published over the years were about John, his life and his doctrine. The first book I published, The Dark Night Murders, is a novel based on an event in John's life.

In late fall of last year, I was involved in discussions about translating a recent comprehensive Spanish biography of the saint. Although I was very enthusiastic about the project, it fell through for a variety of reasons. I hope that the book will be translated eventually, even though I will not be a part of it. His life and message still have much to offer to people today.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Merry and sad

This morning we went to the Very Merry Holiday Fair in Baraboo. There were a number of things going on in town, but we went for the art show. There are excellent things there, most by local artists. Over the years, we have met and bought things from some of these creative people. A few years back on the Fall Art Tour, I bought a small red dragon print from Kae Taylor, who works primarily in batik. We have seen her several times since then at a number of shows and always stopped to chat.

Today when I went over to look at her things, I discovered that Kae had died this past August. She was not quite 60. I spoke with her husband and he said this was to be the last show. We ran into Rich and Peggy, too, and they bought a couple of Kae's prints for their house.

The art fair was fun and we met some new people. But it had that sad note of knowing that someone who had created beauty and shared that with us has gone.

I have shared this Navajo prayer before, part of the Navajo Way Blessing ceremony. It came to mind when I thought of Kae.
In beauty I walk
With beauty before me I walk
With beauty behind me I walk
With beauty above me I walk
With beauty around me I walk
It has become beauty again
Today I will walk out,
today everything negative will leave me.
I will be as I was before,
I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body,
I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me.
I walk with beauty before me.
I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me.
I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me.
My words will be beautiful.

In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful…