Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saturday sighs

I got a good night's sleep and woke a little early. Did my morning routine, cleaned and vacuumed the basement and put in a little work on the book. Helen arrived shortly before lunch. 

We had planned to take her to see the St. John's Bible exhibit in Madison tomorrow, but the forecast is for four to seven inches of snow starting tonight. So we ate a quick lunch and headed for the museum. 

Since this was my second visit, I got to pay more attention to some of the pieces I had not looked at closely last time. Helen bought a set of notecards. I had to resist the temptation to buy books, cards and prints. 

Afterward she and I walked through the museum, which was new to her, to give her an overview. Tom was on the phone helping a troubled friend while Helen and I did that part of the tour.

We ate at High Rock Cafe in the Dells, in many ways the nicest place in town. They have a varied menu and like to use seasonal and local produce. Then back home where Tom and Helen decided there was nothing on television. They settled in to read and I went back to work on the book.

A productive but relaxed day, and somehow I managed to get in 20,000 steps. Big museums are great for that! Oh, yeah. Today I passed a million steps. (I can't give up being obsessive all at once.)

We expect the snow to keep us in tomorrow, but Helen has never seen a Super Bowl and wants to watch at least part of it. I will be free to work on the book. All in all, should be a good day.

Goodnight, moon!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday free from frazzle

Yesterday I worked hard on the book. By bedtime it was two-thirds completed, but I was feeling frazzled. I had weird dreams all night.

I spent the morning volunteering at the library. That was actually rather relaxing, but I could feel a bit of internal pressure because I was not home writing. 

When I got back for lunch, however, I decided today would be a good day to relax and let go a bit. I took a short nap and a walk outside, the temperature being not too cold and yesterday's strong winds had died down.

I did work a bit on the book, but I decided not to let myself fall into thinking that I have to get it done today. Helen is arriving midday tomorrow for a short visit. That will mean I have to put the book on the back burner for a bit, which will be good for me and for the book. No rush, no push, no deadlines.

That's the emotional plan, anyway.

By the way, I think it is going to be a good book.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Thomas Aquinas, Carmelites and the book

Today is the feast day of the great scholastic theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas. He died  on his way to the Second Council of Lyons in 1274, following an accident in which he fell and struck his head against a tree.

In the Carmelite Order, however, there was a legend that some Carmelite friars poisoned him because he was going to use his influence at the Council to get the Order of Carmel suppressed. In fact, the Council granted the Carmelites time to prove their worthiness and they survived the threat. 

Since Thomas had his accident while on the road and stopped at a Benedictine abbey to be cared for and then at a Cistercian house, there is no reason to believe Carmelites were involved in his demise at all. 

But it makes a story and perhaps a refreshing change from the usual glorification of the religious of yore.

I woke feeling a bit lightheaded today and cancelled my tutoring. Instead I have done some work on the book, being heavy-headed enough for that. I think it may turn out a reasonable length. I am getting a grip on how to edit clever wordy bits that contribute nothing*, and I think the end result will still be interesting and entertaining. And so far, no Carmelites are threatening to hit me on the head and I am carefully avoiding Benedictines and Cistercians.

*There is an editorial principle attributed to William Faulkner: "In writing, you must kill all your darlings." The darlings being all those precious bits the author loves but that do not contribute anything substantial to the the whole.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Slow progress is progress.

The main progress to report today is that about 2:30 this afternoon I completed the revised draft of the novelization. Tomorrow afternoon I will sit down and try to read through all 436 pages to see if it holds together and to pick up glaring problems that need correction. 

Last night when I stopped writing, I had a sense that the end was in sight. Once I began this morning, I kept plugging along until I got there. That feels good. 

What does not feel good is that I am behind on my exercise for today and soon need to go start dinner. And I promised a friend that I would go to a talk he is giving tonight. There are a few other minor things I had hoped to get done today, but they can wait if necessary.

Tomorrow morning I have tutoring, but I have the lesson prepared and can relax. That will eat up most of the morning, but I will have the rest of Wednesday and all day Thursday for my own projects.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Obsession progression

Just a brief entry to let you know what I am up to with my writing and walking. 

At the moment (midday Sunday, or Sunday midday, depending on one's editorial preference and style sheet), I am up to page 120 on the novelization project. The draft has 450 pages and I have to make some decisions about what to remove to make it manageable and what to insert to make it comprehensible. 

I admit I am finding it most interesting, but hey, it's based on me and I find myself fascinating. In all humility, of course. 

The protagonist is burdened with the name Benjamin Alexander Hass, and I am trying to make him as interesting as I am. I imagine Jim Parsons has this problem playing Sheldon Cooper week after week on The Big Bang Theory.

On the Fitbit score, I am set to hit 850,000 (yup, that's right -- eight hundred fifty thousand) steps today and pass 370 miles. I have averaged a bit over 10 miles a day since starting on December 23. I even think it is beginning to make a dent in my middle-age spread.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Be a Star

I volunteered at the Kilbourn Public Library Open House this morning. The theme was "Be a Star @ Your Library" because the Library Journal again named our library to its list of Star Libraries.There are 383 public libraries in Wisconsin and KPL is one of only five in the state to be so honored this year.  

I demonstrated how to download library books to e-readers, computers and mobile devices. There were fewer inquiries than in the past. I think that is because this is no longer a new technology for people. Charles was demonstrating an app that lets people read magazines in the same way, and we discovered that lots of people are doing this already on their iPhones.

The turnout was so-so, although those who were there seemed to enjoy themselves. It was not the nicest weather, but at least there was no sleet or ice or heavy snow.

One of the women who came by for a refresher course on using her Kindle is a woman I also helped get a book ready for publication last year. She is now in the middle of her second book and thinking it may turn into two volumes. We had a funny discussion about writing and publishing and marketing.

Friday, January 23, 2015


Off to do my library volunteering this morning, finding the books requested by other libraries in the South Central Library System. I will also get an update on what I need to know for tomorrow's Open House.

Then back to the writing ... Last night I was up to page 234 out of 450. (These are pages formatted for publication, not 8 1/2 X 11 sheets.) My longest book so far, Wicca in Whoville, is less than 400 pages. I hope to trim this thing down to a smaller size than that, and I may go for a slightly smaller -- though still legible -- font as well.

The working title for the novel is The Red Shoe. Here is the opening section that explains the title. (I might mention that not everyone likes this bit.)
The giant red shoe sits in a field about a mile from where we live. Ten or twelve feet high, apparently it is a leftover from some children's park from days gone by. When and why it was moved to its present location, I have been unable to discover. I think it is one of the sights along the riding stable’s trail that winds through the field. Tourists don’t seem to visit the stable much these day, drawn away as they are to the giant water park resorts that spread out along Highway 63. The red shoe is a minor landmark for locals, hardly worth showing to visitors, certainly not important enough to make a special trip but something odd to point out when driving by.

“Why is it there?” people ask. 

Someone must know but Someone hasn’t told me.

In my own way, I identify with the red shoe.

“Why are you here?” people around here sometimes ask.
           “Everyone has to be somewhere,” I used to say, but that only made people wonder even more why I am here.
I didn’t grow up here. I am an anomaly in this setting: a gay man who is now married to his partner of over ten years; a former clergyman; a sometime author, more suited to academia than the local tourist-driven economy.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Trundling along

Not quite so bad as that, I am glad to say. Actually, I am happy to report that I am something like a third of the way through the task with the novelization -- horrid neologism! Between bouts of revising, I go for short walks and thus satisfy my compulsive tendencies on two fronts in a soothing manner. The weather, though not balmy, is at least only cool and quite dry enough to make a ramble in the fresh air both possible and pleasant.

Plus -- because when I get going, I go! -- I got my hair cut and picked up stuff to make chicken pot pie for dinner. Comfort food and Big Bang Theory tonight! Happiness.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"One Tin Soldier"

Not sure why this song started running through my head while I was walking today ...

Listen children to a story
That was written long ago
'Bout a kingdom on a mountain
And the valley folk below.

On the mountain was a treasure
Buried deep beneath a stone,
And the valley people swore
They'd have it for their very own.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end

There won't be any trumpets blowing
Come the Judgment Day.
On the bloody morning after
One tin soldier rides away.

So the people of the valley
Sent a message up the hill
Asking for the buried treasure,
Tons of gold for which they'd kill.

Came an answer from the kingdom:
"With our brothers we will share
All the secrets of our mountain,
An' all the riches buried there."

Now the valley cried in anger,
"Mount your horses, draw your sword!"
And they killed the mountain people,
So they won their just reward.

Now they stood beside the treasure
On the mountain dark and red,
Turned the stone and looked beneath it:
"Peace on Earth" was all it said.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end

There won't be any trumpets blowing
Come the Judgment Day.
On the bloody morning after
One tin soldier rides away.


Not an autobiography

A couple of years ago, I took advantage of the process for National Novel Writing Month to produce memoirs. One difference between memoirs and autobiography is that memoirs are generally more creative and literary. In recent years, some best-selling memoirs have turned out to be so creative that they were essentially fiction. Some would say my work was an autobiography in that it covered my entire life, up until the time I moved to Wisconsin at least. But it was rather rambling, the "story of my life" as I remember and understand it now rather than a detailed and objectively accurate history.

I have shared it with only a few people and do not intent to publish it in that form at all. I have, however, decided, with the encouragement of a couple of friends who read it, to use it as the basis for a novel. 

The novel will be in the form of memoirs and will incorporate a lot of autobiographical material, but it will not be an autobiography. My WhoVille books include a lot of autobiographical details, but are hardly autobiographical. I just use details from my life and experience to flesh them out. So it will be with this work, but more so. My life has been interesting enough to make the framework for a story, but in this case, I will need fiction to flesh it out into something that will hold the reader's attention.

So this is the writing project I am working on at the moment. Because I am modifying an existing text, the work is going fast and I hope to have a completed draft by mid-February. At that point I will get a couple of people to read it and see what they think.

I am not sure what it will be when I complete it, but it will not be an autobiography and it will not be my memoirs exactly. It will just be a book.

I hope!

I can't resist ...

(1,2, 3) Bazinga!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Consumer report: Kitty lighter

If you have a feline boss or a cat to attend, you may have noticed that the kitty litter people have recently put a much lighter version of their product on the market. It is supposed to be just as effective but weighs only half as much. If you have lugged those heavy containers up and down stairs, you can appreciate the change.

Or so I thought.

As far as I can tell, the lighter version is as effective at clumping and controlling odor. Where it fails in my experience is that the cats track it all over the place. I suppose because it weighs less, it clings to their paws worse. I am finding litter in places we never had it before. And I have those anti-litter-tracking mats under the litter boxes.

Maybe you will have better luck, but I have gone back to the heavier version. It is a pain to carry up and down stairs, but then I need the exercise.

Daddy and Dolly

My niece sent me this photo of the picture of my father and Dolly Parton that I mentioned in an earlier post. Thanks, Kirstin!


Today we got a catalog featuring bedding, towels and such things for the home. One of the sale items was this offering.

Click on image to enlarge -- if you dare!

I am speechless.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hello, Dolly!

Today [Monday] is Dolly Parton's birthday. Back in 2003, I was on the United States Captiol lawn on July 4 to watch her perform as part of "The Capitol Fourth" program. There were other people on the program but I honestly cannot remember a single person or group. When Dolly came onto the stage, everyone jumped to their feet and remained there for her entire set.

One October Sunday back in the 70s, my parents had occasion to give Dolly a ride in their GM motorhome. (The details don't matter, and it was a very short ride from where she was staying to where she would be performing that day.) She autographed a wall in the motorhome and had a photograph taken with my father. He proudly hung it in his home office. One reason I remember this is that the photo that had hung there before was of me in my Carmelite habit. He kept the frame, but Dolly took my place.

By my parents' account, she is something special indeed.

Other blogs

I read (or at least check in on) quite a few blogs every day. A handful are news sites, only three at the moment, down from a half dozen not long ago. I noticed that some of the ones I was reading daily created more irritation than they provided information. So I dropped them from my regular visits, although I do look at them occasionally. 

Another half dozen blogs are written by friends -- including one relative -- and are similar in nature to this one. Personal, sometimes informative, sometimes amusing, always interesting peeks into other lives. Although I say these are friends' blogs, with the exception of the family member, I have never met any of the bloggers face-to-face, although some of us chat in the comments and even e-mail on the side.

There are another twenty or so that are less personal but about topics that interest me. As you can tell by the things I write about here, my interests range widely and wildly. One reason I read those blogs is to learn new things and sometimes to find inspiration for a post here or for something I can incorporate into a story.

Just doing my part to make Katie Hafner's remark a little less accurate.

Where are the white Christian leaders?

As is evident in all the historical footage on the news for Martin Luther King Day, the American Civil Rights movement was visibly and powerfully boosted by the highly visible presence of Christian ministers and Jewish leaders of all sorts. One see Catholic and Episcopal clergy in collars, Orthodox Christian bishops with their pectoral crosses and tall hats, nuns in habits, rabbis and countless Protestant Christian figures striding arm in arm into the struggle for the universal brother-and-sisterhood proclaimed in the Bible they believed and preached.

Sadly, with the notable exception of Catholic nuns, who are now largely invisible to press photographers because they seldom wear picturesque habits, this white religious support for equality and progress in race relations seems to have disappeared. The Roman Catholic bishops never show up for anything unless it has to do with abortion. They have remained on the sidelines while the working people of this country have been impoverished by conservative state governments that destroy their right to collective bargaining -- a right enshrined in the very catechism of the church but now ignored because it upsets conservative politicians who will support an end to abortion but offer nothing in the way of public support for the children and women falling into poverty.

When issues of bullying in schools come up, the clergy appear to side mostly with the bullies or to keep silent. When minorities are victims of hate crimes, the clergy fear their right to condemn gay rights will be curtailed if hate crimes are prosecuted. While real people die in the streets, Christian leaders weep about being persecuted because not everyone agrees with their opinion on some issues. Their whining is an insult to the thousands who died over the centuries because of what they believed. Being asked to bake a cake, for example, can hardly be compared to being burned at the stake.

What would Jesus do? I have no idea. But I have a sneaky suspicion it would be something quite different from what we see in America today and something much more like those nuns and priests and rabbis and ministers with arms locked together marching down the street to embody the kingdom of his Dear Father.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Martin Luther King

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Deer trails and tall tales

Today being in the upper 30s (about 2.8 C), Tom and I took a brisk walk down Berry Road after lunch. It is overcast and breezy, but it was not unpleasant and it was good to get out in the fresh air. Much of the snow cover is gone, but enough remains to make it clear where deer trails cross the road. There are several of these that come onto our property, and I have been making note of them so that I can keep an eye out for deer when I am driving at sunset when they are likely to be wandering across the roads. We see a lot of them, and just last week two ran across in front of my car. Fortunately I caught sight of them in time and was able to stop. I have yet to hit one, but just about everyone I know has hit a deer. 

The deer trails remind me of an old joke that I will render in terms of our locale: 

A woman moved from Chicago to the Town of Delton a few years ago. Near her new home on County Road P, there was a Deer Crossing sign. Eventually she wrote a letter to the Town Hall expressing her concern:
A lot of deer get hit by cars west of Birchwood Road on County Road P. There are too many cars to have the deer crossing here. The deer crossing needs to be moved to a road with less traffic.
Abby Gale

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Relative distance

I have begun reading Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island: An Affectionate Portrait of Britain. Lee introduced me to Bryson's books and I highly recommend them to you as well.

This particular volume was written about a trip the author took through Britain after living there for twenty years and before returning to his homeland of the United States to settle in New Hampshire.  He begins by talking about "certain idiosyncratic notions that you quietly come to accept when you live for a long time in Britain. [One] is the idea that Britain is a big place."

Go check your globe and you will see that, at least by American standards, this is hardly the case. But he illustrates it by telling how people react to a suggestion that one is going to make a short trip. Immediately to the folks sitting around the pub overhearing your plans, it takes on the dimensions of a lengthy and difficult expedition.

"Oh, those funny Brits!" you may be tempted to smile to yourself.

But it is not only they. [Yes, I am the grammarian about whom your mother warned you.]

When my parents visited me in Boston in the 1990s, we paid a call on the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Barrington, Rhode Island where I had lived as resident chaplain for a year when I was on sabbatical and attending Brown University. In the rambling conversation, I mentioned some things that had changed in town during the three or four years since I had been there. One was that the large supermarket had closed.

The nuns became very lively and pointed out that they now were forced to drive into the neighboring town of Warren to do their grocery shopping. After several minutes spent bemoaning this great inconvenience, one of the younger nuns quietly spoke up and explained to my parents, "You should know that it is all of three miles."

It did not strike my Texan parents that three miles was much of a distance. But to the Rhode Islanders, apparently it was. Rhode Island is 48 miles from top to bottom and 37 miles from side to side. Texas, on the other hand, is 790 miles from top to bottom and 773 miles from side to side. Great Britain, by the way, is about the size of Kansas or about half the size of California. The illustration at the top shows the size relative to Texas.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Library lament

I went back to the library in the role of a volunteer today, and things went well. I enjoyed hunting through the shelves for all the items requested by patrons at other libraries and managed to find all but three out of a lengthy list. I had a chance to chat briefly with some of the staff whom I had not seen for a while, which was also good. I plan to go in for an hour or so each Friday and for special events when they need extra help.

Two things make for the title of this blog: Library lament

1) Our library has comfortable chairs and is very user friendly. We don't insist on anything like absolute silence except in one area because it contains designated study rooms. There were a couple of elderly gentlemen back there talking very loudly, so much so that we could hear them at the other end of the building. When my duties took me near them, I mentioned that "we prefer" that people speak quietly there and pointed to the sign. They apologized and smiled and went back to talking as loudly as before. As one of them was leaving later, he stopped to apologize again and explain that he is hard of hearing. Since I am also hard of hearing in one ear, I sympathized with him. Then he remarked that there is no place for seniors to go to just sit and chat. There is a community room in the same building as the library, but it is only open for a few hours twice a week for a meal. And it has the comfort level of a school cafeteria from the late 1940s. He mentioned that lots of people wind up going to the bars to sit around, but that did not appeal to him. I made a couple of suggestions about places he might want to check out and we parted on good terms. But I was sad that he finds himself in this situation. We could do better. I know many towns and cities do.

2) Not long after this, an elderly gentleman came in to see if the tax forms were available yet. The library is one of the places where people have always been able to pick up state and federal forms. There are always problems getting all the forms in when people want them, but this year it turns out there is an added problem. The government has decided to provide only the basic 1040 forms and no instruction booklets. People are supposed to go online and print out the forms they need or fill them out online and submit them that way. Of course, this gentleman has no computer at home and has no idea how to use the ones available to him at the library free of charge. So the library staff is going to be overwhelmed by people trying desperately to find the proper forms and get them filled out. The man this morning said the government must want us all to pay H & R Block to do it. Could be. 

This is an ongoing problem with governmental "services" cutting back on services and throwing the burden onto taxpayers who are not well-equipped to deal with the internet. And it throws an additional burden on library staff who actually have full time jobs already trying to get everything else done that is part of a complex job description. I suspect much of the governmental motivation is to save money. I am not sure that it will, but I am sure that it is winning no friends out in the communities of this country.

My Fitbit OCD marches on: December 23 to January 16

You've earned the London Underground badge
You've walked 250 miles—as many as the world's first underground railway. This triumph really lays the tracks for some big things in the future.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Because we should laugh more ...


There is a tavern in Lake Delton that has a 122-inch television (310 cm) -- mainly for sports, I imagine. I overheard someone talking about a football game the other day and his team had lost. "But I got to watch it on a 52-inch screen!" he said with delight.

It is not unusual for a home to have a 52-inch television (132 cm) if I am to judge from what I see for sale at Wally World. The television Tom won just before Christmas was 42 inches (107 cm) and not large by today's standards.

So why has so much effort gone into making the screens we watch bigger while so little successful effort has gone into improving what we see on those screens? 

Thanks to the miracle of High Definition, I can now see the pores on the faces of people who are yelling at one another in pseudo-reality shows about pseudo-relationships. None of this is entertaining and now the people aren't even pretty because you can practically see the brush strokes on their makeup and the fear in their eyes as they wonder if the show will be renewed.

We used to say, "If they can get a man to the moon, why can't they ...?" Now I wonder: "If they can make a 122-inch television screen, why can't they put something on it worth watching?"

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


This is the year I qualify for Medicare. Sobering thought. I have been getting all sorts of junk mail trying to sell me supplementary insurance. I have begun to get things from the government to start preparing me. I am grateful for Medicare. My staunch Republican mother told me that if it had not been for Medicare, she would have been dead trying to take care of my father in his last illness. 

At the same time, when I look at all the paperwork involved, I want to tear out what little hair I have left.

But instead of ranting about inconveniences, I want to think about how lucky I will be to have it when I need it. And how lucky I am that the Affordable Care Act made it possible for me to have health insurance without bankrupting myself.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


My adult nieces -- who are not twins -- have very similar names: Kristin and Kirstin. Needless to say, they do not appreciate it when called by the wrong name. I don't make the mistake too often when I am talking to them, but my fingers mistype occasionally ... I can blame my brainless fingers, right?

My father had a problem with names, at least with my brother's name and mine. And our names are not the least bit alike: Michael (although my father always called me Mike) and Ted (not Theodore!)

When addressing me, Daddy would usually start out, "Ted, Buddy, Talmadge, Ray ...," running through the name of every male relative in the family before finally lighting on Mike.

I suppose one reason it didn't damage my ego -- besides the fact that it is hard to damage anything the size of my ego -- is that he did that same thing when talking to my brother, only then the routine would go, "Mike, Buddy, Talmadge, Ray ...," eventually landing on Ted

For that matter, when addressing my uncle Buddy, Daddy was likely to start off by calling him Mike or Ted or the name of one of my other uncles.

After my brother's son Justin was born, my father would sometimes toss that name into the list as he searched in vain for the right name for the person standing in front of him.

There are all sorts of pseudo-psychological explanations, probably even a name for the syndrome. If not, I propose we call it the Byron Dodd Endless Name Litany Syndrome. When I did a computer search, I ran across all sort of people who struggle with names. The explanation that seemed most reasonable, although not attached to a specific term, is that the names are close in emotional memory. Thus it happens most often with the names of family members and the brain just slips and inserts the wrong name. My favorite solution for the problem was the woman who chose to call everyone Carol. Not sure how her male relatives reacted to that, however.

It reminded me, though, of touring Beechwood, the Astor mansion/cottage in Newport, Rhode Island many moons ago. The tour guide told us that the Astors tended to call all male servants Patrick and all female servants Mary. They said they had too many of them to remember their names and it was a waste of time. 

Mrs. Astor [yes, that Mrs. Astor] also did not permit the servants to marry. "You don't have time to take care of my family; how do you propose to take care of one of your own?" she supposedly told a maid who had the temerity to ask.

I think there is already a term for that particular problem ...

Monday, January 12, 2015

Mopish Monday

After a lovely day yesterday, I am having a low energy Monday. Not that I haven't done anything. 

  • I did laundry, 
  • swept and mopped floors (okay, the robot and I swept and mopped floors together), 
  • ran some errands, 
  • paid bills,
  • did my meditation, 
  • did my exercise, 
  • fed the cats, 
  • petted the cats, 
  • cleaned the kitty litter boxes, 
  • made an appointment to get the oil changed in the Equinox,
  • read,
  • answered email,
  • blogged ...
Still feeling a bit listless, though. Well, tomorrow is Tuesday. And you know what they say about Tuesday.

Don't you?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The St. John's Bible

Today we went down to Madison to visit the Chazen Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Wisconsin. It is a great museum, previously known as the Elvehjem Museum of Art, and underwent a major expansion and renaming about the time we moved up here. It is well worth a visit any time. Today we went down to view this special exhibition.

The St. John’s Bible is a hand-written and illuminated bible commissioned by the monks of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. Celebrated calligrapher Donald Jackson and a team of scribes and illuminators completed the bible over a fifteen-year period employing techniques and materials that untold scribes before them used prior to the invention of the printing press.

The Saint John’s Bible is the first handwritten Bible that interprets and illustrates scripture from a contemporary perspective, reflecting a multicultural world and humanity’s enormous strides in science, technology and space travel.  It is also the first handwritten and illuminated Bible created in the past 500 years.

In the Benedictine tradition of inclusion, The Saint John’s Bible incorporates elements from the world religions, including Judaism and Islam, as well as influences from the Native American cultures in the Minnesota area. It also documents Minnesota as the birthplace of The Saint John’s Bible through illustrations of flora and fauna indigenous to the region. 

The seven volumes comprise 1,150 pages of calfskin vellum, the script is written using hand-cut goose, turkey and swan quills, and the ink is hand-ground lamp black from 19th century Chinese ink sticks. Egg tempera and gold leaf provide vivid color to the illuminations. The images reproduced here give you only a glimpse of the design. The actual pieces are amazingly bright and dimensional.

There was also an excellent video that described the process of conceiving and creating this work of art. Watching the calligraphers and artists at work made me appreciate how mind-bogglingly delicate it was to produce such beauty. I could only marvel at the amount of time devoted to the project and at the courage of the Benedictines and artists involved to commit to it.

Tom and I were both quite taken with the exhibition. Since the pages have not yet been bound, a great number of them were on display. I can't say enough about how beautiful it is. If you read or hear of it coming to a museum in your area, I highly recommend you see it.

Before we went to the museum, we stopped and had a very nice meal at P.F. Chang's. So thanks go out to Rich and Peggy for making that treat possible. It helped make the whole trip a special event.

Simplicity itself

Peggy sometimes gives me magazines that have recipes in them, because she knows I like looking for new ideas. I won't say in which one I found this, because I don't want anyone's lawyers showing up at my door threatening me with libel...

The point is, this particular recipe is described as impressive for guests and secretly easy.

It consists of 
  • Crepes -- 7 ingredients
  • Compote -- 7 ingredients
  • Filling -- 3 ingredients -- one of which is a homemade ricotta that has 5 ingredients and takes two and a half hours to make

So total number of ingredients -- 21
Total time to make the completed dish -- 3 hours and 50 minutes

I am sure it is delicious, but secretly easy? I hate to tell them, but the reason it is a secret is there is no way that this is easy.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Good news, sad news?

Some time back I was with some friends and acquaintances when one of the young women brought up a documentary she had just seen on television showing that there is lots of evidence for the existence of mermaids. Despite our laughter and efforts to point out that that particular "documentary" was as fake as the famous Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio program, she insisted that it was true. Why? Because it looked like it was true, people acted very serious and -- most importantly -- they all were scientists. Scientists? Yes, because the thing on the screen that gave their names identified them as scientists with different research groups.

This is one of the things that is wrong with television and the way we watch it. We have lost the ability to distinguish between fiction and nonfiction. Because the entertainment business has discovered (I used the word discovered intentionally) that you can get people to watch just about anything if you pretend it is real.

And I used the word discovered because a big offender -- the perpetrator of the foolish mermaid program, for example -- is the Discovery Channel. But good news!
Looks like Discovery won't be finding new evidence on mermaids anytime soon.

Despite its ratings success with shows like "Mermaids: The Body Found" and "Megalodon: The New Evidence," new Discovery Channel president Rich Ross said he's getting rid of fake shows, according to

At the 2015 Winter TCA press tour, Ross said, "I don’t think it’s right for Discovery Channel, and think it’s something that has run its course." Ross went on to say shows will still air if they were previously ordered, according to EW, but that type of programming is "not something that’s right for us."

Ross also addressed Discovery's critically bashed special "Eaten Alive," in which (spoiler alert) no one was actually eaten alive. The president said the program was "misleading," adding, "I don’t believe you’ll be seeing a person being eaten by a snake in my time [at Discovery].”

Though it seems like Discovery's attempt to grab ratings with sensational shows may be over, other channels in Discovery's network can breathe a sigh of relief. After he was asked about the fate of shows like Animal Planet's "Finding Bigfoot," Ross said he "just has to worry about what I do."

Other supposedly informational channels are equally bad. Almost every other program on the History Channel has about as much to do with history as Mike and Molly. And one sad thing is there are thousands of fascinating stories about history that don't have to delve around in fantasy about the Templars or such junk. Well, at least someone it trying to be responsible. I wonder how long Mr. Ross will keep his job if ratings start dropping.

Now if only someone like him would take over the news outlets that desperately need a housecleaning ... 

PS -- If you are interested in a famous historical mermaid hoax -- the hoax is historical, not the mermaid -- click here to read about P.T. Barnums's famous Fiji mermaid. At least that way you will learn something real.

Friday, January 9, 2015

I'll be posting pictures tomorrow if they turn out okay.

Still chillin'

It is 1:30 in the afternoon and I just went to run an errand. The main reason was to get out of the house and walk around inside a large warm store to get in some steps, but there were a couple of things I wanted to pick up. I parked, as has become my custom, far from the door to the establishment. They have a ginormous parking lot and by parking some distance away, I (1) don't waste time and gas looking for an empty space near the entrance, and (2) I put in some additional walking. It is a trick I learned long ago at the time I lost a ton of weight after getting my thyroid condition treated. And, oh yeah, (3) I leave those more convenient spaces for someone who may need to be closer to the store.

And on this bright sunny day, even though I knew it was only 3 above zero outside (-16.1 C) -- I figured it was only a few additional seconds and wouldn't hurt.

My walk into the store was cold and it was breezy, but it didn't bother me much. The trip back to the car after my shopping, however, was another story. The wind was right in my face. The wind chill (as I discovered when I checked on the weather app) made it feel like -13 (-25 C) and it really did. I told Tom that by the time I reached the car, which was no further from the store than it had been when I left it behind, I felt like the villain in one of those action movies where the hero shoves the heel of his hand into the bridge of the guy's nose, pushing bits of bone back into his skull. Which is to say,  it hurt!

But no frostbite. I was probably out in that bitter blast no more than a minute and a half. When I lived in Chicago, I once got a bit of frostbite burn on my upper cheeks when I walked from the monastery to where I worked at the University of Chicago. It was only a distance of five or six blocks, but a biting wind blew in my face the whole way. I had everything covered but my eyes and that bit of cheek beneath them, and I got a noticeable burn that left faint scars for some time.

Today no scars, so how bad could it really be?

After all, we have had actual temperatures this week of -13 (-25 C) with wind chills of -33 (-36 C) -- and at least I didn't decide foolishly to go out into that!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Small world stuff

One of the groups we belong to here is the Stewards of the Dells of the Wisconsin River. Since April 2006, the Stewards of the Dells of the Wisconsin River has sought to protect the 15 miles of shore frontage along the Upper and Lower Dells from Nine Eagles to the Rocky Islands, including such famous landmarks as Stand Rock and the Rocky Islands of the Lower Dells, by supporting the work of the DNR, local and county governments, businesses, landowners, and civic groups and concerned citizens with an interest in preserving the beauty and environment of the Dells of the Wisconsin River. It came into being about the same time we moved to the Dells. Tom has been quite involved with them from the beginning and I am also a member.

At the group's Christmas dinner some four or five years ago, my former membership with the Discalced Carmelites came up in conversation with the married couple at our table. The wife got very excited because she had known one of the friars from her childhood and had all sorts of questions about what he was up to. It took me quite by surprise to wind up discussing that particular friar with someone I had just met here in the Dells. He was not, by the way, a Wisconsin native and had spent little time in Wisconsin. But she met him when he gave a retreat at her high school or some such thing, and clearly it had impressed her a great deal.

Forward to this past Tuesday. I was having breakfast with her husband and he handed me a book written by his maternal grandfather. It was the biography of his great-grandfather, who had been born in Vermont but went as a young man in the first half of the nineteenth century to be a trapper and farmer in New York. When Mark gave me the book, he mentioned that much of it was set in the Adirondacks.

"Where?" I asked. "My best friend in the monastery and I often used to spend summer vacation time at his parents' cabin near Lake George."

And as it turned out, the great-grandfather's farm was about twelve miles from where I spent a lot of time back in the day. 

Six degrees of separation ...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Nerd alert

I keep forgetting to mention this, but recently on a re-run of the Valentine's Day episode of The Big Bang Theory, I noticed that a robot sweeper-mopper exactly like the one I have was leaning up against a desk in the background in Leonard and Sheldon's apartment.

Just sayin'.

Warm front?

Okay, I said I would say something about the weather, but I will keep it brief.

According to the Weather Channel app icon on my laptop, it is now 1 degree above zero (-17.2 C).

According to the very same Weather Channel app, when opened, it is 1 degree below zero (-18.3 C).

Oh, on the very same page  it says that it is 4 degrees below zero (-20 C).

According to the Weather Channel app icon on my tablet, it is 1 degree below and when I open the app, it agrees with that.

On the other hand, the Accuweather app on the tablet says it is 4 degrees below. It also cheerfully points out that it is sunny and feels like 25 below (-36.7 C). I assume Accuweather and the Weather Channel have their reporting stations a few blocks apart in Lake Delton, which accounts for some variance. Why the Weather Channel is offering me three different temperatures among which to choose -- I simply don't know.

So all we can agree on is that it is quite cold.

And for my readers in the US of A who wonder why I bother to include the Celsius temperatures, here's a fun factoid:


I put the pro in procrastinate.

"Procrastination is one of the few skills I've mastered."
~ Ron Stoppable [character on Disney's Kim Possible]

Why is it that some tasks cry out for procrastination and others place no obstacles to prompt completion?

The obvious answer is that I want to put off difficult tasks, but often the job is not all that hard. It may be something that will take less than sixty seconds of my ample free time and utilize a total of four calories of energy. It may not be otherwise unpleasant. But I just don't feel in any hurry to do it. Even when it is something that I know needs to be done and even needs to be done soon -- or at least, relatively soon. 

Yet at certain times, I can sit myself down for two to three hours a day, seven days a week until I have cranked out a complete first draft of a novel of some 120,000 to 150,000 words. 

At which point, I will set it aside for six or ten months, remind myself periodically that it needs to be completed, and then at the gentle and persistent prodding of friends, finally will pick it up and finish rewriting, proofreading and editing it and have it on the market in two weeks.

And then I tell myself that I really should make more of an effort to market the thing ...

But what's the hurry?

We've always done it this way.

Merry Christmas!

"What's that?" you say.

Today, January 7, is one of the days on which some Christians -- and I don't mean a handful of eccentric individuals, but entire communities of people who have been Christians for many centuries, literally hundreds of millions of Christians -- celebrate Christmas.

Christians in the West -- those who celebrate Christmas, because not all of them do, you know -- and some Christians in the East, celebrate on December 25. (I know, you are saying to yourself, "Yeah, because December 25 is Christmas." Wrong!)

Armenian Apostolic and Armenian Evangelical Christians celebrate on January 6, the date on which some Western churches celebrate Epiphany, the visit of the Wise Men.  Lest you think "Armenian Apostolic and Evangelical Christians" is a pretty obscure group, I know some here in  Wisconsin. In the year 301 of the Common Era, Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion. So maybe their opinion should count for something.

Many Eastern Orthodox Churches -- those who follow the ancient Julian calendar, which was the calendar all Christians followed until  after the Reformation -- celebrate today, January 7.

And to cap it off, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem celebrates on January 19. This is because the Patriarchate uses the original Julian calendar, unlike all those folks in the other Eastern churches who use the Revised Julian calendar.

So we have 4 dates for Christmas, 3 calendars for determining it ... and no doubt somewhere, a confused partridge in a pear tree.

Anyway, just a reminder that not everyone does much of anything the same way. So the next time someone glibly remarks, "Well, Christians do such-and-such" or "believe such-and-such," you can be polite and smile. 

But you will know better.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The problem of variable intervals

 Click on image to enlarge

Back in 1972 I read an article by B.F. Skinner with the intriguing title, "God is a Variable Interval." I think it was in Playboy magazine -- because I only read it for the articles, you know. Actually that is sadly sort of true.

Within the context of operant conditioning (training through the giving and withholding of rewards), a variable interval means that the desired response is rewarded NOT every time, but periodically and on a seemingly random schedule. This type of behavioral training is very hard to extinguish.
Extremely oversimplified and perhaps misleading example: Every time the pigeon hits a red button, you give it a pellet of food. The pigeon quickly learns to hit the red button. BUT if you suddenly stop doing this after having done it every single time for an extended period, the pigeon will try a few times and then stop when the reward is not forthcoming.

In the variable interval scenario, the pigeon is reward every time for a while, then is not rewarded once and then is rewarded a few times, then not rewarded once, then rewarded a few times, then not rewarded a couple of times, then is rewarded ... What happens is the pigeon will keep hitting the button for a longer time because it expects the reward eventually, even if not every time. Instead of stopping after the first couple of failures, it re-doubles its effort. And even though the reward is given only occasionally, it will keep at it because it never knows if this will be the time or not ... or maybe the next time ....

Sound familiar? Skinner used the example of God promising rewards but not always coming through, but people keep asking on the chance that this time might be the time that it works. I don't think the article was very much about the God angle at all, but it did make a catchy title. I am sure the title is the only reason I read the article.
Which is a woefully long (and hopefully not too inaccurate) way of telling a tale about the cats. (Trust me, the weather will be brutal tonight and tomorrow and I will get back to that.) The cats get their treats (mentioned in an earlier post) on a somewhat regulated schedule. When I am working in my basement office and realize it is time for a treat, I come upstairs and Sundance comes running. Cassidy may or may not rouse herself to come to meet me at the top of the stairs, but she does raise her head in expectation.

The problem is that now the cats have come to associate my climbing the stairs with them getting a treat. It took me a while to realize that I was reinforcing their behavior by sometimes rewarding them with a treat even though one was not due, just because they were following me around and getting in  the way because I had come upstairs for some other reason. So now I have trained them to expect something every time I come up. I am trying to extinguish this behavior (train them that it is not going to happen) but because I have been irregular in giving or withholding the reward, it will be hard to break them of the habit. Okay, maybe impossible. Or maybe we could install a bathroom in the basement and I could limit my trips up from the depths to the times the cats are supposed to be treated the way they clearly expect to be treated all the time.

I know -- pretty high end problem, right?

I know you're out there somewhere ...

This Moody Blues song doesn't really have much to do with this post, but I like it and stole the title. I hope you enjoy it.

I happened to look at the stats for the blog today and was surprised again to see where my readers are located. As I mentioned in the comment to Kirstin on the January 1 Milestones post, I don't really know why anyone in China or Russia looks in. What was must surprising to me today was to see that at the moment the second largest group, after the States, consists of people in the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic? Followed by China, France, Russia, the UK (Hello, Sunny!), Germany, Taiwan and Australia.

Anyway, I know you're out there, or at least Blogger and your internet servers know. So just thought I'd say ahoj to my Czech fans.

One Day at a Time

January 6, 2003
4,380 days
Life is still good.