Saturday, May 31, 2014


Yesterday the woman I tutor brought her two boys by the house for a brief visit. As soon as they got out of the van, the three-year-old pointed at the irises, which had begun to bloom this week, and announced loudly, "The flowers are scary!"

He didn't sound particularly scared, but he insisted the flowers were scary. When I asked him why, he said, "They look like an owl."

I am not sure why he thought they looked like an owl or why  owls are scary. But he cheerfully went into the house and enjoyed his visit. When they were walking out the front door, he pointed to one of the irises again and said, "Flower!"

Kids! Ya gotta love 'em, but who can understand 'em?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

In most of the country, Memorial Day -- besides being a patriotic holiday commemorating those who died in defense of the country -- is considered the beginning of summer. Or rather, Memorial Day Weekend is.

In the Dells, Memorial Day Weekend is the Beginning of the Season -- the Tourist Season. Which, in the Dells, Waterpark Capital of the World, don't ya know, is like the pre-Christmas shopping season for retailers. The main industry (only industry?) in town is tourism, so the next three months is when lots of people make pretty much all the money they are going to make this year.

So our little community of Wisconsin Dells+Lake Delton -- combined permanent population under 10,000 -- swells by many tens of thousands more each weekend from now until Labor Day, and on most weekdays after July 4. It brings in the cash, but it adds lots of pressure to the roads and other infrastructure. Inevitably, you see bumper stickers like this one popping up:

The people who live here year round celebrate Memorial Day in the usual small-town-America way, though. There is a parade that winds eight or nine blocks through downtown before the businesses open Monday morning. (Wouldn't want those tourists to be unable to get to the shops!) It consists of an honor guard carrying flags, veterans riding in old military vehicles and waving, elementary school children riding bicycles decorated with red-white-and-blue ribbons, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts, the local high school band and every fire truck and emergency vehicle the organizers can scrape up along with the uniformed first responders marching proudly along. People line the sidewalks on both side of the street to wave and yell at relatives and neighbors. We always sit near the end of the parade route, in front of Bowman House, so that we will already be at Bowman Park for the service that follows immediately after.

The first such event we attended after moving here from Chicago was in 2006. The most touching part of the program that year was the reading of the names of all the local military personnel who died in wars beginning with the Civil War. For all those who died in World War I and after, they included a brief biography. It was the sort of thing that can probably only happen in a small town where many of the families of those who died are still around. 

Although we have continued to attend the parade and memorial service every year, except when it was rained out or we were out of town, they have never repeated the reading of the names. I miss it. I didn't grow up here, like Tom did. Hearing the names and little things like when they had graduated from Wisconsin Dells High School helped me feel connected to the new place.

And Memorial Day is about connections -- to a season, to a nation, to a small town, to history, even, I suppose, to a local economy.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Origami hummingbird

Mitchell mentioned that (1) I should put out a hummingbird feeder and not torment the poor things, and (2) that he wanted to learn to make the hummingbird/flower origami that illustrated my post about the poppies.

I could not find the instructions to make that exact item, but I did find this amazing video of Andrés Plazas making an origami hummingbird. It it eight minutes long and you may not have the patience to watch the whole thing, in which case you can fast forward to the end to see what it looks like. But it is fascinating if you take the time to watch how he does it. Think of it as a meditation.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


 Motto: Virtue, Liberty and Independence

Pennsylvania, officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States, and the Great Lakes region. The state borders Delaware to the southeast, Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, Lake Erie and Ontario, Canada to the northwest, New York to the north and New Jersey to the east. The Appalachian Mountains run through the middle of the state.

Pennsylvania is the 33rd most extensive, the 6th most populous, and the 9th most densely populated of the 50 United States. The state's four most populous cities are Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, and Erie. The state capital is Harrisburg. Pennsylvania has 51 miles of coastline along Lake Erie and 57 miles of shoreline along the Delaware Estuary. The state is one of the thirteen original founding states of the United States. 


I had just grabbed my computer bag and was heading upstairs to go to work at the library, when I heard Cassidy's distinctive loud thump-thump-thumping descent. I thought she was coming to remind me to give them a snack before leaving for the afternoon. Instead she was bringing me a gift -- a fat little vole!  Not far behind was Sundance, checking it all out.

A vole is a small rodent resembling a mouse but with a stouter body, a shorter, hairy tail, a slightly rounder head, smaller ears and eyes. There are approximately 155 species of voles. They are sometimes known as meadow mice or field mice in North America. Vole species form the subfamily Arvicolinae with the lemmings and the muskrats.

The vole was wounded, though not dead. I scooped it up in some paper towels, took it outside and disposed of it. Then I gave each cat a snack. Which may be a mistake. They may interpret that as a reward and start hauling in other rodents, snakes and what-have-you.

One of the joys of having cats and living in the country!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Poppies and hummingbirds

The other day I bought one of the crepe paper poppies the local American Legion Post was selling on Armed Forces Day and in preparation for Memorial Day. I didn't have a buttonhole to put it in, and when I got home I decided to wind the wire stem around the still-bare trumpet vine that twists along one side of the deck.

It hadn't been there long before a hummingbird discovered it. Of course, the hummingbirds love the trumpet vines but the birds are already here and the trumpets are clearly weeks away. I don't know if it is the same bird or not, but today I saw another one hovering around from various angles and poking into the fake flower, hoping for something. I should probably go out and brush sugar water on it.

Sorry I don't have a picture of that!

I did, however, find this photo online of an origami hummingbird and flower.

In the background of that center close-up photo you can see a half orange fixed to the deck rail for the orioles. Tom cuts a fresh orange in half each morning and puts both halves out there. They go through an orange a day, with some help from a few other birds and the ants.

As you can see, other than the trumpet vine, things are greening up nicely out back.

Creeping Charlie

I posted some photos the other day of various blooming things around the place. Of course, it being spring (finally!), some things we would prefer not to bloom are doing so nonetheless. The ubiquitous dandelions are out and also the Creeping Charlie, which is winding its way across the lawn.

I had not heard of Creeping Charlie before I came to Wisconsin. It was, apparently, once touted as a fast-growing ground  cover. And you can probably guess the rest of the story.  Just do a search online for "Creeping Charlie" and the first things you are offered are sites on how to control, kill and destroy it.

You may know it as ground-ivy, gill-over-the-ground, alehoof, tunhoof, catsfoot, field balm, or run-away-robin. It is a member of the mint family, small and low-growing, which may not be obvious in the photograph here. The general effect is a scattering of tiny blue or violet flowers hugging the ground in your yard. It was once valued for its medicinal purposes, but it is now despised for its aggressive presence in lawns.

The first time I heard of Creeping Charlie was in a poem by the Discalced Carmelite nun and poet, Jessica Powers, whom I was honored to know for a brief time prior to her death in 1988. Today I live a short distance from Mauston where she grew up on a farm in the early part of the last century. She was a noted figure in the Catholic literary movement of the 1930s in this country, before she entered the monastery in Milwaukee in 1942. There she was known as Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit. This photograph was taken in the last months of her life.

One of her poems, written in 1948, is "My heart ran forth."

My heart ran forth on little feet of music
to keep the new commandment.
(O feast and frolic of awakening spring!)
It would beguile the world to be a garden
with seeds of one refrain: My little children,
love one another; so my heart would sing.
But wisdom halted it, out far afield,
asked: did you sow this seed
around your house, or in the neighbor's garden
or any nearby acreage of need?
No? Then it will not grow in outer places.
Love has its proper soil, its native land;
its first roots fasten on the near-at-hand.
Back toward the house from which I deftly fled,
down neighbors' lanes, across my father's barley
my heart brought home its charity. It said:
love is a simple plant like a Creeping Charlie;
once it takes root its talent is to spread.

What I like about the poem is the reminder that love is for those nearby, not just for those far off. We need to let it take root where we are.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Later in the birthday

I had a fairly quiet day. Got cards and emails and phone calls wishing me a happy 64th. Tom had bought me a mini-stepper-exerciser. The doctor is happy I ride the exercycle, but she wants me to do more weight-bearing exercise. This thing is WORK! And good for my balance, too.

I cooked my own birthday dinner, because Tom and John were out at the railroad all day supervising the track crew. The little railroad opens for the season on Friday and they are hard at work getting things in shape.

Dinner was bacon-wrapped chicken, rice and salad. They got me an Extreme Chocolate cake and decorated it with appropriate candles.

I had emailed Steve Payne in Kenya, hoping that all is well there. He assured me that they are safe from the terrorists, at least. He leaves tomorrow for his home visit to the States. With any luck, we may be able to get together for a meal at some point. He also sent this card for my birthday.

Thus I enter my 65th year ...

And I found out that I share my birthday with Rubik's Cube, although it is a mere youngster at 40.

Alis volat propriis(Latin: She flies with her own wings) -- Oregon State Motto

Oregonis a state in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It is bordered on its west by the Pacific Ocean, north by Washington, south California, east Idaho, and southeast Nevada. The Columbia River delineates much of Oregon's northern boundary, the Snake River largely its eastern.
Oregon's area was inhabited by many indigenous tribes before traders, explorers, and settlers arrived. An autonomous government was formed in Oregon Country in 1843, Oregon Territory was created in 1848, and Oregon became the 33rd state on February 14, 1859.

"When I'm 64 ..."

When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?

If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four?

You'll be older too
And if you say the word
I could stay with you

I could be handy mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings, go for a ride

Doing the garden, digging the weeds
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four?

Every summer we can rent a cottage on the
Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck, and Dave

Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine forever more
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bonsai, sort of

Last Christmas, Lucy gave us a small juniper bonsai. It looked a bit like the one in this photograph.
She remarked at the time that she did not expect it to survive. It held on for a few months, but then it became clear that our combined efforts had either failed to save it or had hastened its demise. Sadly I pulled the dry and brittle plant out of the ground and disposed of it.

But I had always wanted a bonsai, and I saved the small pot, the stone and other bits.

Yesterday I dug up a small cedar from our woods and planted it in the pot. I added some new moss as well. It is not nearly as nice as the shaped one Lucy gave us, but it looks pretty good sitting on the table out on the deck.

I don't think it will be a malleable as the juniper, and I am not sure it has much more chance of survival. But for the moment ...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Springing a bit

Things are leafing out and some plants are blooming. Here are a few shots from around the place.

Bleeding hearts always do well along the front walk. 
This is one Tom recently transplanted to a space in the rocks.

Our little crabapple tree never looks very good, but it is about to bloom. 
The buds look like tiny roses about to pop open.

When my father died almost three years ago, a friend gave me a hydrangea in his memory. We have created a small wild-ish garden with the bush (not in the photos, just leafing out) as the anchor. I have been working to get grape hyacinths established and this year they are making a nice go of it.

The two pictures above are of some of Daddy's garden, where the creeping phlox is starting to bloom.

Tom and Helen planted sand cherries outside the dining room window three years ago. The leaves are beautiful and the little blossoms are delicate.

Violets hide among the day lilies ...

Friday, May 16, 2014

And now for Kenya ...

NAIROBI, Kenya — Twin explosions hit a market area in downtown Nairobi on Friday afternoon, killing 10 people and injuring 76 others, officials said, adding to a series of deadly attacks in the country in recent months.

The blasts came after a number of Western embassies had issued advisories against travel to Kenya because of fears of such attacks. British authorities were in the process of evacuating hundreds of tourists from the costal town of Mombasa even before the explosions in Nairobi took place on Friday.

The authorities said that two explosive devices went off at 2:30 p.m., one in a minibus, and the other in the market nearby. Two suspects have been arrested and are being investigated, officials said. No group has claimed responsibility, but the authorities have attributed other attacks in recent months to a Somali extremist group, the Shabab. This is a militant Islamist group associated with al-Qaeda.

My former religious community has several monasteries in Kenya, including one just outside of Nairobi. Back in 1995, I was asked to be one of the founding friars there. I even started studying Kiswahili, but I never was sent to Kenya. A few years later, when I was on the Provincial Council, I recommended that we send Fr. Steven Payne, my best friend in the Carmelites, to be a member of the formation team in the seminary. Although Steve found it to be a challenge, he loved Kenya from the beginning. Today he is Principal (President) of a Catholic college there.

Please keep him, the community and all the people of Kenya in your prayers and thoughts.

If you were able to come back as ... Part Deux

When I described what sort of person I would want to come back as to the friend who first asked me the question, his response was: "So, if I understand this correctly, you'd like to be reincarnated as Batman."

Not exactly, but that did remind me of a t-shirt:

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Just sayin'

With an attitude like this, I don't know why I am not in Congress or anchoring a national news program or ...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

If you were able to come back as ...

A friend asked me in an email today, "If you were going to be reincarnated what / who would you like to come back as?"

My grandmother (my mother's mother) used to say that -- had she believed in reincarnation, which as a good Church of Christ lady, she did not! --  she wanted to come back as one of my mother's dogs. Or cats. Whatever, because my mother spoiled her pets so much. My mother no longer has pets, but she does a fine job of spoiling the neighbors' cat and even feral cats. And the occasional raccoon that she feels sorry for.

So it is tempting to say I would come back as someone's pet (cat, of course) and be spoiled rotten.

But then I thought maybe I should take the question more seriously, although it was asked in fun. So maybe I will give it some thought. I turn 64 next week. I suppose it is time to look back over the past six-decades-plus and think ...

If I could do it differently next time around (which is not at all the same thing as "what would I do differently if I were doing this time around again"), what/who would I like to be?

What about you?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Prayers needed for an entire town

My brother and his wife and one of their daughters and her family live less than ffiteen miles from this town.
PHOTO: In this Sunday, May 11, 2014 photo provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety, a wildfire burns near Fritch, Texas. The wildfire has led to evacuations and road closures and has destroyed dozens of homes. (AP Photo/Texas Department of Public Safety, Chris Ray)

Texas Panhandle residents near wildfire retrieving meds, documents as crews continue search

FRITCH, Texas — Karla Burgin knew her father's home had been destroyed by a wildfire in the Texas Panhandle that burned more than 150 buildings and forced evacuations, but she was eager to get inside Tuesday to see what might be left. Her father is safe, staying with friends 30 miles south in Amarillo, and crews were combing through the area burned by the fire that began Sunday. Burgin said father built his home in Fritch for him and wife — a place that was everything to him now. Burgin's mother died two years ago. Her father told her, "Now I'm 72 years old and I don't have anything," Burgin recalled.

No smoke was apparent Tuesday in blue skies above the small town of about 2,100 residents. Lower temperatures and wind speeds, and higher humidity were helping those dealing with hotspots in the fire area, where authorities estimate about 156 structures were destroyed in the blaze.

Texas A&M Forest Service spokesman Troy Duchneaux said the fire was 75 percent contained Tuesday. Most of the town's population was forced to evacuate.

Sheriff's deputies were preparing to escort some residents whose homes may have burned so that they can retrieve medication and important documents. They also will be allowed to see if their pets might be nearby, though they will not be allowed to go searching for their animals, Hutchinson County Sheriff Don Johnson told residents at a community meeting Tuesday. "It's immediate needs," he said.

Duchneaux said residents whose homes were spared by the fire may be able to return later in the day after emergency and utility crews finish assessing damage and searching for potential victims.Among the structures destroyed in the fire that started Sunday are 89 homes, all north of Texas 136, which is the main road through Fritch. Duchneaux said authorities have attributed the death of one person from an apparent heart attack Sunday to the fire, though details haven't been released. The wildfire was the first large fire this year in the Texas Panhandle. The region is in the most severe stage of drought after months of well-below rainfall totals and fire officials earlier this year warned wildfires could worse in the area than in other parts of the state.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A better Monday blue

Last Thursday, one of the librarians expressed great delight at having seen a goldfinch in her backyard. I told her that we had just seen a half dozen orioles, our first hummingbird, ruby-breasted grosbeaks and lots of finches -- gold and house.

Another librarian remarked, "You sure rained on her parade!"

I don't think that was my intention, but it probably did sound a tad one-ups-man-ish.

At any rate, today we saw our first indigo bunting of the season. Peg had seen a couple last week. This one was hanging around the suet feeder and perching on the bare trumpet vines on the deck railing. This is not a photo of that one, because I could not get a decent one. But this is the bird and a lovely one it is, too!

Rainy days and Mondays ...

Thanks to Bosguy for the graphic!

PS -- It's raining.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to Mama, Cynthia, Angie, Kristin, Kirstin, Helen, Rebecca, Jennifer and all those whom I am no doubt forgetting!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Worth repeating

Back in 2009, I posted the following  story in the context of a longer piece on anti-semitism. I think it is worth repeating.
There is an old Hasidic story about a rabbi and his students. As they walked along one day, the rabbi asked, "How can we know the hour of dawn — the time at which the night ends and the day begins?"
No one ventured an immediate answer, so they continued to walk. Then one of the rabbi's disciples offered something. "Is it when you can look from some distance and distinguish between a wolf and a sheep?"
"No," said the rabbi. And they continued to walk.
"Is it when there is light enough to distinguish between a grapevine and a thorn bush?" ventured another student.
"No," said the rabbi. There was a long silence.
"Please tell us the answer to your question," said one. "How is it possible to know the precise time at which the dawn has broken?"
"The dawn comes for each of us," said the wise old teacher, "when we can look into the face of another human being and — by virtue of the light that comes from within us — recognize that even a stranger is our brother or sister. Until then, it is night. Until then, the night is still with us."
Sadly, my sisters and my brothers, the night is still with us.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and darkness moved over the surface of the deep, and the breath of God stirred the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. 
(Genesis 1:1-4)

 Let there be light!

Even in the night, let there be light!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Nice for them, huh?

My last Social Security adjustment was for $9 per month -- $108.00 for the year. Of course, I was never making the big bucks to begin with.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Avian invasion

 Today we saw our first hummingbird as well as a female scarlet tanager. Still waiting to see the beautiful male.

At one point, there were six orioles squabbling over the remnants of the orange sections I had put out -- two females and four males. We usually only get passing glances of the orioles, so this was exciting. Tom wanted to take a photograph, but by the time he was ready they had scattered, of course.

The white squirrel put in an appearance this morning, too.

Quite the day for wildlife!
On an unrelated but happy note, last night I completed (I hope!) my work on the Carmelite project.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Monday so far

It has been a fairly productive day, even though I did not use a To-Do list. But I did something, then something else, some more stuff and ...

I got my mother's gift for Mother's Day ordered and shipped. I also got her card signed, addressed, stamped and mailed. She  should get the gift mid-week. The card, on the other hand, may not get there in time for Mother's Day, mail between the Dells and Whitehouse being what it is.

I got my driver's license renewed. That went pretty fast and with no hassles. Thanks, Baraboo DMV office!

I got about a third of the final (hope, hope, hope!) work done on the Carmelite project.

I downloaded the materials for week three of the five-week online course I am taking for my library job and started reading through them. I also did the quiz for week two and sent it in. I got a fast email telling me I made 100%. (Not that hard when you can look up the answers.)

Tom started work on some paintings he is doing for Rebecca and David and the twins' new house. The process he uses for these painting is messy and wet, so he built a sort of tent studio outside rather than mess up the floor in his basement studio. I wanted to get a photo of him at work, but he had taken it down before I got a chance. Maybe later.

Bird news: Peggy told me a couple of days ago that she had seen the first hummingbird of the season and a male and female rose-breasted grosbeak. I thought I had seen a female grosbeak but not a male. Then yesterday I saw a male and female at the bird feeder at the same time, and they have been around a lot today. I saw my first oriole in the back yard today. I put some oranges out to try to lure it back. No hummingbirds yet. We no longer put out a hummingbird feeder because the trumpet vines, once they bloom, attract all the hummingbirds we need.

Tom tells me that while he was sitting out on the deck reading, a small bird came and perched on the toe of his work boot and stayed for a while. How Disney-esque!

I'm not saying this is me ... yet.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Happy Star Wars Day!

For those who understand, no explanation is necessary. For those who don't, no explanation will suffice.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Project Clean

When I was in Whitehouse in early April, they were having their annual clean-up day. (I think it was all across Texas that weekend.) Today we have Project Clean here in the Dells. Tom and I joined others cleaning up litter along the roads and other areas. We went as part of the Stewards of the Dells of the Wisconsin River group. There were tons of Boy Scouts out there, too.

We had a nice day for it, dry and sunny and pleasantly warm after a long stretch of rain and cold.

Sad that there was so much junk. In a couple of hours, the four of us working our stretch of road picked up something like eight large garbage bags full of beer cans, bottles, styrofoam cups and the inevitable disposable diapers.

There was quite a bit of traffic along the lovely old road we were cleaning, lots of winding turns, trees and interesting limestone outcroppings. It is sad that people choose such a place to throw their trash. At one point someone driving by apparently tossed an empty potato chip bag out their car window as they went past us.

One of our companions suggested that maybe they thought we were doing community service as a punishment and they were just trying to help us learn our lesson.

"Happy thoughts, keep thinking happy thoughts!"

Friday, May 2, 2014

Little by slowly

A friend here in the Dells is famous for saying that things happen little by slowly. That seems to be the story of the work on Whoville Too

I did get some editing done today. I feel good about the changes, think I am tightening things up (in a good way) and so am making progress. I suspect if I could get two weeks with no other responsibilities, I could finish up a final draft and move towards publication. But I won't have the luxury of uninterrupted weeks until after the beginning of June. Maybe then. Tom will be in Chicago for a week on family business, and my library work load will be much reduced. So maybe ...