Saturday, February 28, 2015

Chocolate and the social order

When I was a child, I stumbled across a bar of chocolate in my mother's pantry. Greedily I broke a piece off and began to chew it.

It was terrible! Why? Because it was chocolate all right, but baking chocolate. Unsweetened chocolate, also known as bitter, baking chocolate, or cooking chocolate, is pure chocolate liquor mixed with some form of fat to produce a solid substance. The pure, ground, roasted cocoa beans impart a strong, deep chocolate flavor. With the addition of sugar, however, it is used as the base for cakes, brownies, cookies, candies and other delights.Very important words: with the addition of sugar. The pure stuff is bitter, bitter, bitter. 
There are people who will tell you that 100% chocolate liquor -- not Kahlua, by the way, but the ground or melted state of the nib of the cacao bean, containing roughly equal parts cocoa butter and solids -- is healthy for you. There are always people who will tell you things that taste bad are good for you. I do not know  why this is the case, but it is.
Many things in life that are sweet seem to become bitter as they are reduced to their purest essence. Take religions, which offer consolation in times of sorrow, make sense of a confusing world and provide a community connection in times of isolation. Yet look around you and you see that the more pure [in its own valuation] the version of a religion -- and I am sorry to say this, but I am talking about Christianity as much as about Islam or pick any other faith -- the more likely it is to become bitter and brutal, turn to persecution and oppression, first of those who differ from it and eventually even its own adherents. If this shocks you, I suggest your read several good histories of the world and of the religion of your choice. Let me just say: Inquisition, witch trials, crusades, Wars of Religion. Shiites, Sunnis. You get the idea.
Heresy, by the way, is what happens when a member or group of the faithful decides that the entire faith can be reduced to one aspect -- justice, ritual purity, Jesus-was-a-man, Jesus-is-divine --- and all other aspects shrink into virtual nothingness. The orthodox, by the way, can reduce everything to one aspect -- all thinking alike about a circumscribed set of beliefs: form of baptism, understanding of the nature of God, creation of the world. And everyone else is going to hell.
Or look at political parties. The more purely a party comes to represent only its founding principles, the more likely it is to begin to refuse to cooperate with the larger society, to become obstructionist, to become suspicious of its own members and leadership and pretty much work full tilt to cut off its own nose to spite its face. Not to name names, but ...

People, people! Baking chocolate is not fun to eat. You need more than the nub of a cacao bean to make fudge. You need more than opposition to taxes to rule a nation.You need more than ______________ [Fill in the blank] to build a world.

Just sayin'.

The man in the mirror

No, I'm not talking about the Michael Jackson song (although that might bear reflection -- pun intended) but about the question my niece asked: "When did you get old enough for Medicare?"

Short and simple answer: May 1, 2015. My birthday is May 19, but Medicare kicks in at the beginning of the month you turn 65.

When did I get old enough for Medicare?

Yesterday I got a CD from Lee with a dozen or so songs that are all about 50 years old. How is it possible that songs I listened to new in my teens are half a century old?

When did I get old enough for Medicare?

At the gut level, I think of Medicare as something that my grandparents needed. My brain knows that my mother has had it now for 21 years, and we are all grateful that she has the protection. After my father died a few years ago, she told me that had it not been for the help they had from Medicare, she thought she would have died, too, from the additional stress they would have suffered. But somehow Medicare was made for much older people.

Tom has had Medicare for a while now. When did he become old enough for Medicare?

When I see a photograph of myself, I am always a bit startled. I don't see that man in the mirror every morning. Why not? Not that I see in the mirror the guy I was when I was 30 or even 40. But ... is that man in the photograph me

That guy looks like he may be old enough for Medicare soon.

The guy looking at the mirror, the guy looking at the photograph, however, is not feeling anywhere near old enough for Medicare. He is grateful that he will have the security that comes with it, of course. But inside I am only 40 or so. 

Or so it seems this morning. Whatever. 

When we were in Spain back in 1978, the nuns in Granada told us a story about an old nun who had decided to leave. She was in her 70s and had been in the monastery since she was a teenager. When a priest came to talk to her about it, he told her she was being foolish. 

"At your age, why would you leave? Why now, when you have so little time left?" he said bluntly, trying to shock her into being sensible.

She looked at him and said, "A day is a day."

The nuns laughed and said, "Of course, she was crazy."

I think not.

A day is a day.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday night

It has been a long week somehow. I thought it was going to be a relaxing one, but I wound up with a couple of meetings, the Medicare seminar, tutoring and library volunteering, shopping, cooking, cleaning, writing. None of that is anything like holding down a full time job, I know. But even so, it was not the relaxed week I had been anticipating. Maybe next week.

At this point the weather reports indicate we could have four to eight inches of snow Monday into Tuesday. That prediction doesn't mean much four days in advance. This winter we have had any number of snowfalls of this size predicted that failed to produce even a flake. We will see.

Meanwhile, ...

Which is not to say I am discontent!

Verily, verily

Thursday, February 26, 2015


The Medicare seminar this morning, though poorly attended, was informative and helpful. My plan is to have this insurance business sorted out in the next couple of weeks. That leaves plenty of lead time before everything clicks in on May 1.
After lunch, Tom and I went to the library. I wanted to pick up some things for tutoring tomorrow and he picked up a couple of westerns.

Most of the afternoon I have been tired. Not listless, but physically tired. I hope I am not coming down with something!

Tonight, as Tom reminded me, is Sheldon night. That should perk me up a bit. Then I can go to bed and listen to an audio boooooookkk ....snore!

Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur.
Happy kitty, sleepy kitty,
Purr, purr, purr. 

BTW, Sundance was chasing her tail earlier and caught a claw in the fur and couldn't get it loose. She was thrashing around on the floor in Tom's office, and at first he thought she was having a seizure. Once he got her disentangled, she was back to normal, trying to look like that was what she had meant to do all along.


Well, this morning I am off to a seminar about Medicare and all that. It is being run by the people Tom has his Medicare B with and with whom I imagine I will get my own. It is a company I had considered buying my individual insurance from back in the day when I was one of the tens of millions of Americans without health insurance. I was very impressed with what they offered, but they would not accept me because of pre-existing blood pressure issues. 

Once I went to work at the library, the union health insurance happily took me under its wing. After I retired from the library, knowing that Medicare was only a matter of months away, I stayed with the provider that I had through the union. Now I must make another decision.

Anyway, I hate fooling with all this sort of stuff, but what can't be cured must be endured. 

Oh, all that money in the background? That is the pile that insurance company investors roll around in every morning à la Scrooge McDuck. Some few bits were once mine for a brief moment in time.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


I already shared this with Lee in an email, so this will be old to him. 

Saturday night when Tom and I came out of a store, there was a sliver of a moon and one star in the cold clear sky. 

While Tom put the cart away, I got in the truck and recited the child’s poem: “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.” 

And my mind went blank.  

I couldn’t think of anything to wish for. 

I told Tom I didn’t know if that was good or bad, but I think it means I am content. 

PS: When I told a friend about it on Sunday, he said I should have wished for warmer weather. 

PPS: You may have noticed that I keep changing the background image and the font for the title of the blog. The font for today is called Luckiest Guy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pre-spring cleaning

This is the last week of February and spring is only a few weeks away. The last couple of days, however, I have been feeling not spring-y but spring-cleaning-y. So far it has been mostly cleaning up the computer and tablet, deleting useless apps, deleting blogs that have gone dormant or that I no longer follow for one reason or another, that sort of thing. 

Then I need to go through the closets and get rid of things that are of no use to anyone and pack up other things to take to St. Vincent de Paul. 

Once the seasons have turned, I will move winter clothes down to the basement closet and bring warm weather gear up from there. At that point, I can also make the transition from winter bed linens to spring and summer things.

Clean and air the bedroom, clean and air the bathroom, clean and air the cats' litter boxes and toilet areas. Vacuum and mop floors, dust shelves and furniture and appliances and try to get cat hair off floors and shelves and furniture. Try to convince Tom that he wants to clean the kitchen. Failing that, clean the kitchen.

Wash the car! Wash the car! Wash the car!

So I have a plan. But don't ask about my office and the rest of the basement! 

And Medicare B. I have to make a decision about Medicare B. And prescription plans. And ...

Yikes! It is so much easier to write a book.

Tuesday tasks

This morning after my usual routine, we ran some errands. Tom needed to go to Home Depot, we needed to do a bit of grocery shopping and I finally broke down and bought two pairs of jeans. Last week the seat finally went out on one pair and the cuffs on another pair of pants have frayed beyond repair. So off to buy clothes.

And I am not going to complain about how much I paid for two pairs of jeans and three pairs of socks. No, I am not going to complain. Not, not, not!

Nice socks, though, huh? Also in red/gray and purple/black. Too much information?


 Click on image to enlarge

My taste in television is hardly inspiring. I confess that I watch some PBS, much of it imported from BBC. We have been watching Grantchester, which in that annoying British way just completed a season of six whole episodes. Sometimes I watch Father Brown, although these often irritate me because they have nothing to do with Chesterton's stories. I also watch The Big Bang Theory and several Disney Channel and Nickelodeon shows designed, I think, mostly for middle school kids. And other stuff that even I can't think of off hand. Says a lot.

Lately I notice that American commercial television (which may be all we have in the near future because Republicans seem determined to do away with the public in public broadcasting) is dominated by faux reality programs (which group can be said to include about 50% of so-called news programs) and now programs derived from comic books. 

I have nothing against comic books. After all, Sheldon Cooper and the nerds on Big Bang reserve every Wednesday night for visiting the comic book store. And I was a huge comic book fan when I was younger. Many  of these comic book-based shows (and movies) are very popular and exciting.

On the other hand, what does it say that so much of our cultural input is from comic books? Not based on characters and ideas from G.K. Chesterton, for example, but Stan Lee. Not plots derived from literature that people have been reading for a century but from stories that are the very epitome of ephemera.

And surely only someone who watches way too much PBS programming would use a phrase like "the very epitome of ephemera."

Okay, Michael, weren't you going to stop complaining? 

I am grateful for shows that make me laugh, for those that make me smile, for those that enlighten me and make me think, and those are available if I take the time to seek them. And I can, and do, turn the box off and read instead.

Also, not everything has to be intended for the ages. It is okay for some things to be for this age alone. It's not like people a hundred years hence will be guffawing over the misfits in WhoVille.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Not at this time

Well, my idea for a novelization of my memoirs is not happening. After feedback from the friends who agreed to review it for me, I realize that turning the present manuscript into a novel would take much more work and time than I want to give to it at the moment or in the foreseeable future. I appreciate them for taking the time to read and comment on it and for their candid evaluations. For now, I will dedicate my writing energies to the next WhoVille story and other projects. 

[And no, they were not as unkind as Dorothy Parker. But I love that quote.]

Monday morning munchies

A week of so back I saw some ready-to-bake blueberry scones at the market. This weekend I picked up a pack and baked them this morning. They were small but pretty good, if you like scones. A friend is coming over later to talk about a book and I thought it would be nice to  have something to offer with her tea or coffee. 

When I took the scones out of the oven, Sundance went berserk. I assured her that she did not want one, but she kept whining and I offered her a bit. Needless to say, she didn't want it. This is just part of her recent pattern of wanting me to offer her a bite of whatever I am eating.

Fifteen minutes later, Tom decided to make himself some bacon and smell up the house before my guest arrived. (Thanks!) That really sent Sundance into a tizzy. I took a small bit of bacon fat from the skillet and put it on a piece of her regular dry food. She was sitting on a chair, rubbing up against the back and whining. I put the bit in front of her, and as you can imagine, she snapped it up and licked the chair.

We're doomed. Soon she will want eggs Benedict. Cassidy, God love her, eats whatever is there and goes back to sleep.

I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger, while traveling through ...

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Joey wins big!

Tom is a big Joey Logano fan, but he told me that Joey doesn't do as well on the longer tracks like Daytona. Although he planned to watch the Daytona 500, he was just going to check in from time to time to see who was leading. He figured Joey would be in the top ten or so, but that's all. So he was surprised and delighted when Joey won this afternoon. He will wear his Joey cap smugly when we go out tonight and will probably sleep in it all week.

Whatsoever things

This afternoon as I was flipping channels, I caught a few moments of news programming. I was tempted to comment on what I saw, but instead I will post this and try to let it go.

Part of my morning routine is reading selections from a variety of spiritual traditions. This passage from Philippians 4:8 is among them:
Finally, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Simply Sunday

It was cold this morning -- old news -- but sunny.

Tom is upstairs waiting for the Daytona 500 to start in a few minutes. Cassidy is curled up on a chair down here in the basement and Sundance on a chair in Tom's office. Any minute now one or the other will realize it is midday and time for a snack. I am going to leave them alone until then.

I have been answering email, doing some walking and listening to Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy

I was planning to cook pork chops, baked potatoes and salad for dinner tonight at Tom's request, but right now it sounds like we may go out for dinner and put my meal off until tomorrow.

Speaking of going out for dinner, a reader commented about the fish fry. Wisconsin has this big tradition of going out for a Friday night fish fry. I think it got started back in the day as a way for every little parish school to raise extra money. The Catholic school in Baraboo still has one, but only once a month now. Every bar and tavern and restaurant and diner and lodge in the state, however, provides fish fries. (Up north they do a fish boil, which some people swear by -- but I would probably just swear, so I will pass on that, thank you very much.)

If you ever come visit us in Wisconsin, Tom and I will be happy to treat you to a fish fry. Y'all come on now, ya heah?

The Wisconsin fish fry is such an institution that there are guidebooks to tell you where to go and what to expect. Is it battered or breaded? Is it all-you-can eat? Walleye or cod? Do you need to bring your own lemon if you are like Tom and not a tartar sauce fan? And -- this is no exaggeration -- how early do you have to get in line if you expect to eat before eight or nine? And even a movie:

Watch the trailer by clicking on the arrow below.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Weekend wistfulness

Today it got up to almost 30! (-1.1 C) We took advantage of the better weather to go to Madison for the annual model railroad show. We ran into several friends from the little railroad, saw some fun layouts and pushed our way through crowded aisles to glance at more stuff than you can imagine for the model train fanatic. 

A little of that goes a long way, and we headed to the west side of town for Indian food. Swagat has won the best Indian cuisine award from Madison magazine yet again this year. I give them kudos for continuing to improve their choices. There are a couple of other places we like just as well, though, one right downtown and the other on the east side. We usually eat at whichever one is closest when we get  hungry for Indian food.

I wish there were an Indian restaurant closer to the Dells. When we lived in Hyde Park, we would tool up to Devon Avenue in Chicago when we wanted Indian food. That seems closer, but in reality it could easily take 45 minutes to drive there from where we lived by the University of Chicago and another ten minutes to find a place to park. From our house to Swagat is about an hour, and it is much easier than driving through the Windy City. But since it is in Madison and you drive miles through the country to get there, it seems much further. So we don't make the trip just for samosas and chicken pakora.

Anyway, after a nice lunch,we came back to the Dells to feed the cats, let Tom catch up on what's happening at Daytona and let me to do some walking outside in the relative warmth and ponder the plot for the book.

Tonight we will probably eat leftovers from this past week: a nameless though vaguely Mexican goulash, pizza, country captain (a chicken stew with curry and raisins -- hey, don't knock it until you try it!), barbecue chicken and pork roast. There are a few slices of pizza, but otherwise it is one serving of each thing. At least we can clean out the refrigerator a bit.

That's the news so far. Updates as events warrant.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Frosty Friday

We have had snow showers much of the day so far, with accumulations of significantly less than an inch. It is supposed to get up to 20 (-6.7 C) but at two in the afternoon we are still at 12 (-11 C), up from eleven below (-24 C) when I got up.

Did my tutoring and library volunteering this morning. My student will be taking an assessment exam in a couple of weeks to see what she needs in order to prepare for getting a GED. I am proud of her. She works hard at her studies, keeps a good attitude, holds down a part time job, raises two kids and seems to be a good wife to her husband. It is a lovely family with little material bounty but with healthy values.

Just piddling around this afternoon, reading, exercising, writing a bit. It is Friday, which probably means we will go out for fish fry tonight. No plans for tomorrow, but Tom will be absorbed with the Daytona 500 (apparently a race of some sort?) on Sunday. The cats will take turns snoozing on his lap and I will find something to entertain myself.

Don't forget to be awesome. (I love Mental Floss on YouTube!)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thursday things

Today I went out to lunch with my former colleague from the Bookmobile. Since it was the beginning of Chinese New Year, we ate at a nearby Chinese buffet that she and I like but that Tom and her husband don't care for that much. We have a nice long lunch; she is a slow, deliberate eater and I am an inhaler.

After that I took her grocery shopping. She has not been allowed to drive for the past three months, following several episodes where she blanked out for a minute or so. Fortunately these never happened while she was driving. She has an appointment with her doctor next week and is hoping he will let her drive again. I have my doubts, but we will see. Meanwhile, I told her to call me when she needs a ride somewhere when Ralph, her husband, is not available.

This took up several hours in the middle of my day, but I still made some progress on the book plotting. Which is to say, I came up with a number of possible solutions to the problem I was having with the loose ends. My plan now is to go back and start writing again and see which of those solutions makes the most sense when I get to that point in the story.

Tomorrow morning is tutoring and library volunteering. Yay! 

But tonight -- Sheldon Cooper and The Big Bang Theory!


Yesterday I read an opinion piece denouncing a national group for giving an award to an individual who represented something the author of the editorial did not like. That's okay. We all have our opinions: the group, the honoree, the author of the piece I read.

But it got me to thinking. Although I recognized the celebrity who was being honored, I had never heard of the award. For that matter, I had never heard of the group giving the award. 

The more I found out about it, it sounded to me like this was a group that existed primarily to give awards to big name people in order to garner publicity for themselves more than to garner publicity for the cause they supported and/or opposed. As is often the case with these groups, most of the money goes to pay the salaries of the top officers and probably a small percentage goes to making little gold-colored plaques to hand out to actors and political candidates who are just happy to get their name and photos in the paper.

Well, everyone has to make a living, I suppose. But I am not going to get all hot and bothered because some group I have never heard of is giving out awards that don't mean anything to someone who has already made his or her opinions known and received more media attention than merited. The award event is mostly a feeble attempt to get back in the paper, and writing angry letters about it helps keep it in the news.

And, no, I doubt you know which group I am talking about, because you have probably never heard of them and I am not in the business of handing out free publicity. So despite this post, I am not keeping this story alive.

Groups of all sorts seem to do this -- political groups of all stripes, religious groups, single-issue groups. Not all individuals or organizations, of course, are in the racket for the money. But too many of them are.

Since this sounds like a complaint, I will say that today I am grateful for those people and groups who, often at great personal sacrifice, sincerely work to make the world a better place for all of us, especially for the disenfranchised, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the hungry, the vulnerable. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. So thank you!


One of the disadvantages of wine is that it makes a man mistake words for thoughts.
~ Samuel Johnson

Not just wine, I am afraid. Power, wealth, fame, political influence, religious standing, athletic ability, public office, one's own television program ... shoot, maybe even writing a blog!

Well, I can't blame wine or athletic ability, that's for sure.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

More on Lent

Back in 2012, I told Tom I was going to give up complaining about people for Lent. (See what I posted at that time by clicking here.)

After a week or so, he pointed out that our dinner conversation had dwindled to practically nothing. Apparently when I gave up complaining about people, I had little left to say.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

And not that I am complaining about Tom.

Maybe if I tried replacing complaining with talking about things and people for which and for whom I am grateful (like Tom!), I would not have to be so quiet.

Back in business

Just a quick check-in this morning to report on the election yesterday. As it turned out, only one school district was having elections, so it was not as bad as I had feared in terms of paperwork. I was home by nine o'clock, which was wonderful.

Voter turnout was about 12% of registered voters, which is better than predictions but woefully sad when you think that school boards have a major role in planning and facilitating the future of the community. This, however, was only a primary election and there was virtually no publicity about it. Perhaps in April when the final vote comes, in conjunction with other local elections, we will do better.

Things were quiet enough at the polls that I got to do some work on the novel. No actual writing, but I filled out more of the plot line. In fact, enough to get to the very end and run into a blank wall. Today I will give more thought to that problem.

Deep-freeze weather is back. Today and tomorrow we expect highs of only 3 or 4 degrees (-15 or -16 C) and lows of minus 11 (-24 C). No snow in the forecast until Friday, and then just a snow shower.

It is Ash Wednesday. While we tend to think of Lent only as a time that calls for sacrifice, the English word Lent initially meant spring. So this is a time for new life. May the next 40 days bring signs of new life emerging, in whatever way is most important for you.

I wish you life in abundance, to share and to enjoy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Back to the polls

We have a school board election today and I will be working at the polls from 6:30 a.m. until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. The polls close at 8:00, and I thought the after-closing paperwork would not be so bad. The turnout for these smaller elections is never big. But then I remembered that the Town of Delton, which has one polling place, has people who live in three different school districts: Wisconsin Dells, Reedsburg and Baraboo. Which means we will have three sets of papers to deal with and about fifty places to sign our names when all is said and done. The day itself will not be hectic, but the hours will be long. 

Fortunately I will not have to be up early on Wednesday for tutoring. My student called yesterday to move our class to Fridays because of a change in her work schedule.

Monday, February 16, 2015


This past weekend one of several Weinermobiles used by Oscar Mayer to promote its products slid off the road and crashed into a pole in Pennsylvania. There were no injuries.

Several years ago, Kathie and I had gone to fuel the Bookmobile at a Mobile station where the city had credit. There was a Weinermobile parked in the station's lot, and children were running over to have their photos taken in front of the car.

Before we left, we saw kids also coming over to have their picture taken standing next to our bookmobile, just a van with books painted on the side. No competition, really. But the kids thought both odd vehicles were a treat, I guess, and the parents went along with it.

Louis Jourdan: Ah, yes! I remember it well.

I just saw that Louis Jourdan has died. I saw him on stage in Gigi when I was in St. Louis in 1984-85. He played the young playboy Gaston Lachaille in the 1958 movie version. In the mid-80s he was playing Honoré Lachaille, the role Maurice Chevalier had played in the movie.

I saw him at the Fox Theater, one of the grand old movie palaces from the 1920s. It is called the Fabulous Fox for a reason. It had been completely restored a couple of years before I was there, and part of the deal the city had made with the restoration project was that a number of free tickets had to be made available to the local community for all performances that took place. It was only a few blocks from St. Louis University where I was studying. So some of us in the Institute for Religious Formation would go stand in line for free tickets. You wound up seated high in the nosebleed section, but after the first break, you could move down closer. 

Pop culture note: The title of this post refers to one of the songs in the play, in which two characters have very different memories of an earlier encounter:

We met at nine, we met at eight, I was on time, no, you were late
Ah, yes, I remember it well

We dined with friends, we dined alone, a tenor sang, a baritone
Ah, yes, I remember it well

That dazzling April moon, there was none that night
And the month was June, that's right, that's right
It warms my heart to know that you remember still the way you do
Ah, yes, I remember it well

How often I've thought of that Friday, Monday night
When we had our last rendezvous
And somehow I foolishly wondered if you might
By some chance be thinking of it too?

That carriage ride, you walked me home
You lost a glove, aha, it was a comb
Ah, yes, I remember it well

That brilliant sky, we had some rain
Those Russian songs from sunny Spain
Ah, yes, I remember it well

You wore a gown of gold, I was all in blue
Am I getting old? Oh, no, not you
How strong you were, how young and gay
A prince of love in every way
Ah, yes, I remember it well

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sunday sojourn

As absurd as it may sound, last night with the temperatures around zero [-17.8 C], we went out to Culver's for a Valentine's Day turtle sundae. It has hot fudge, so that was okay.

Having survived a bitterly cold night [minus 15 F/ -26 C], we decided to go to Madison to do a bit of shopping. Tom was looking for a denim jacket and I need some new jeans. We went to Goodwill and to the Savers on the east side of the city, but the Savers on the west side is no more. Sad! At any rate, we had no luck with any of those places or at the stores in the regular mall. We had gyros for lunch and headed back.

We stopped north of Sauk City to get Tom's coffee and then at Farm & Fleet in Baraboo, where Tom found exactly the jacket he wanted. I tried on some jeans but was still unsatisfied. I'll keep wearing what I have until I am forced to buy new ones, I guess.

While in Farm & Fleet I heard the sort of comment that one never hears in Neiman Marcus, for example. A couple passed us, he pushing a cart and she walking ahead. As they went by she turned to him and said, "Oh so now they're my pigs."

Gotta love it!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Doomsday: Not a Valentine's Day post

As background for Wacky in WhoVille, I am re-reading James Randi's Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. It is informative and entertaining because he has a wry sense of humor that appears from time to time. Go to your local library and see if they can get you this book. Tons of fun.

I had forgotten that his book includes an Appendix that deals with "Forty-Nine End-of-the-World Prophecies -- That Failed." I discovered (or perhaps, having read the book before, I re-discovered) that my birthday, May 19, was once pinpointed to be the end of the world, although in 1719, a bit before May 19 became my birthday. Jacques Bernoulli (yes, the Jacques Bernoulli who discovered the mathematical series now called the Bernoulli numbers*) predicted the end of the world by comet on that day. Not so much, as it turned out.

Among the more amusing prophecies was for the destruction of the world by a great flood in 1524. There were a number of such predictions, although they did not agree as to the exact date. Randi notes that, according to the 1878 Encyclopedia Britannica, 1524 was "a year, as it turned out, distinguished for drought."

The end of the world is still a popular topic among some religious folks, and these days even more popular among many who are political, some of whom are religious and some of whom are not. We get variations such as:
"The world will end if we elect a divorced man President." Ronald Reagan came and went and the world is still here.
"The world will end if we elect a black man." Well, not yet.
"The world will end if black and white kids go to the same schools." Nope.
"The world will end if black and white people marry." Nope.
"The world will end if gays are allowed to marry." Nope.
"The world will end if the Democrats/Republicans control both houses of Congress." Nope.
"The world will end  if ..."
Okay, here's the deal: the world will end. If you are a Christian who believes it will end with the return of Jesus, okay, it will end. Scientists are convinced that the world will end, certainly the "world as we know it." Some believe the world/universe will end and then re-emerge, with or without the help of an Intelligent Designer.


I confidently predict the world will not end today. (If I'm wrong, feel free to sue me.) I confidently predict that within ten miles of where you are, someone will be hungry today. Someone will be lonely. Someone will be frightened. Why not do something to make that person's world begin to be better today? 

Do that today and if the world does end tomorrow, you can face it more calmly.

Just sayin'.

*Click here for more on Bernoulli numbers. No, I don't understand the article either.

I'll keep it simple

Friday, February 13, 2015

It's that day

Triskaidekaphobia (from Greek tris meaning "3", kai meaning "and", deka meaning "10" and phobos meaning "fear" or "morbid fear") is fear of the number 13 and avoidance to use it; it is a superstition and related to the specific fear of the 13th person at the Last Supper being Judas, who betrayed Jesus.  The antichrist shows up in chapter 13 of the Book of Revelation.

It is also a reason for the fear of Friday the 13th, called paraskevidekatriaphobia (from Παρασκευή Paraskevi, Greek for Friday) or friggatriskaidekaphobia (after Frigg, the Norse goddess after whom Friday is named in English).

As you may know, not all cultures have the Friday the Thirteenth problem. The Greeks, interestingly enough since the fancy word for the fear has Greek roots, think Tuesday is the unlucky day and that the number 13 is lucky. Tuesday the Thirteenth, however, is considered unlucky. Very confusing.
By the way, the fancy terms did not exist in ancient Greece but were created in the twentieth century. 

Spanish-speaking countries also often think of Tuesday the Thirteenth the way Americans think of Friday the Thirteenth. This may be because the Spanish word for Tuesday, martes, derives from Mars, the Roman god of war. And war is always unlucky. Next week, by the way, will be Mardi Gras [Fat Tuesday], since the French word for Tuesday (Mardi) has the same Latin root as the Spanish. 

There is also a tradition that Adam and Eve ate the apple on Tuesday. Don't know why.

If Friday the Thirteenth does bother you, however, you will not be pleased to know that 2015 contains three such dates. The next one is coming fast: March 13. Then you can breathe easily until November.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lincoln's birthday and ghosts

This is a famous "spirit photo" supposedly showing the ghost of Abraham Lincoln standing behind his widow, Mary Todd Lincoln. You may have to look closely to see the face hovering over her head, slightly to the right, but the hands are quite clear. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Spirit photography became popular during the Victorian era. In the photos, shadowy spirits seem to hover or loom around living people. This was all trickery done with double exposures and darkroom techniques, but that didn’t stop it from being touted as real. The photographer Wiliam Mumler founded the movement in 1862; it became wildly popular and was promoted by Mumler and other portrait photographers creating mementos for bereaved family members.

I mention this because part of the back story of Wacky in WhoVille is a course Damien is teaching on hoaxes and frauds. And the story will (at least as now planned) involve Abraham Lincoln and a ghostly appearance.

When I was a child and dinosaurs roamed the Texas plains, we celebrated Lincoln's Birthday on February 12 and Washington's Birthday on February 22. Those holidays got mashed into something called Presidents' Day, supposedly to honor all presidents but actually just an excuse for a marketing blitz in the bleak days of February.

Perhaps this is just a ghost holiday ...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wednesdays we work

I spent much of the morning with the woman I tutor. She is learning to use the dictionary; we did another schwa lesson online; and then we practiced reading an Eric Carle book for her to read to her son at home. After our regular lesson, we discussed getting her into a class in a nearby town to prepare for taking the GED. She has a lot of work ahead of her, but I think she will be able to learn what she needs. She came to the United States from a small village in the countryside of Mexico with the equivalent of a middle school education . One thing she clearly learned somewhere along the way: keep trying and don't give up.

She reminds me of an admonition of St. Teresa of Avila to her nuns. She told them to have a muy determinada determinación, a very determined determination.

It is my day to cook and I am planning chicken parmesan with pasta. Hope it turns out okay. I am adapting a recipe ... and that is always iffy. 

I did not get any writing done yesterday, but I did do some research. This story will involve a hoax and Damien is teaching a course in famous frauds and historical hoaxes. I love reading about that stuff!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


As a kid, I loved to see cattle in the field accompanied by brilliant white cattle egrets. The cattle stir up insects as they graze, and others are attracted to cow droppings. The egrets feast on the incoming bugs. This is an example of a commensal relationship.

In biology, commensalism refers to a relationship between two organisms in which one benefits but the other is unharmed. Un-harmed. 

The cow does not benefit much, if at all, from the presence of egrets. The birds may be keeping some bugs from bothering the cows, but this is a small matter and the cows would do fine without the help. The main point is that it costs the cows nothing. They suffer no harm but provide a real benefit. And they don't charge the egrets a fee.

Commensal is rooted in a Latin term meaning "eat at the same table."

Sounds like the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, and a model for healthy social interaction. Oh,  maybe even a Christian model! Huh. What about that?

We fairies

This is the audition scene from the movie Were the World Mine. Timothy, played by Tanner Cohen, is auditioning for the part of Puck in his school's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The rugby team waits outside impatiently to get into the auditorium. The movie is a riff on themes from that Shakespearean work.

Tom and I saw the movie several years ago, and I recently watched it again on Netflix. I had not paid close enough attention to the credits to realize it was filmed in the Chicago area. It always reminded me more of New Hampshire, I suppose because the prep school in the movie looked a bit like St. Paul's School. That was just down the street from the monastery of the Carmelite nuns in New Hampshire, and I sometimes wandered by the school when out for a walk. St. Paul's was originally an all-boys school, founded by George Cheyne Shattuck, whose family had a connection to another place in the New Hampshire that the Carmelite friars used to own. When I was vicar provincial, I was part of the negotiating team that sold the property.

If you have not seen this sweet movie, I recommend it. 

That rugby player is not short, by the way. Tanner is 6 feet 4 inches tall. (1.93 m)

For an earlier post about fairies, click here.

Monday, February 9, 2015


Sunny asked if my walking is a bit ... much? And she asks why I am doing so much of it.

In my mid-30s, when I was in the best shape I was ever in, I routinely walked five miles or more every day. I found it good for my body, my mind and my spirit. I walk now for the same reasons. Most of my working life was sedentary, and it took a toll on my health over the years. My doctor strongly recommended walking for my bodily health, and I can tell it is helping. I know from experience that it is good for mind and spirit. 

We live in the country and, weather permitting,  I can walk on Berry Road, which has little traffic, or in the woods where Tom has been clearing paths. Lately the weather has not allowed for going into the woods, but the road is there. I bundle up and brave the elements unless it is snowing or raining. If the road is too messy, I can make some laps on our drive because Tom always has it cleared or go over to Rich and Peggy's to walk around their circle, which is also kept clear. Sometimes on these walks, I just enjoy the fresh air. Sometimes I listen to an audiobook -- lately P.G. Wodehouse or Bill Bryson.

We have a largish basement, and when the weather does not allow me outside, I can walk down there. Outside is better for obvious reasons, but even inside allows me to ponder. I find that I do a significant amount of composing for the books and even the blog while walking. When I sit down later to the computer, much of the work is already done.

Or as others have noted:
If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk. ~ Raymond Inmon 
A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world. ~Paul Dudley White 
I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. ~John Muir, 1913, in Linnie Marsh Wolfe, ed., John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, 1938
 I especially like the quote from John Muir. Though born in Scotland, he grew up not far from here in Portage, Wisconsin, and it is due to his efforts that America is blessed with places like Yosemite and the Sequoia National Park. Tom and I belong to a group that works to preserve the natural beauty of the Dells of the Wisconsin River, an extension of the projects that Muir began more than a century ago.

PS -- The day I did 40,000 steps, which I doubt I will do again any time soon -- very time-consuming! -- was also a day I accomplished a lot of writing.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

There's no bright golden haze on the meadow ...

Unlike the opening song of Oklahoma! we have no bright golden haze on the meadow, and it's not such a beautiful mornin'. Instead it is dreary, gray and just enough below freezing for there to be a hard, shiny glaze on the driveway. We had thought about going somewhere today, but it looks like there is not even a day trip in our immediate future. At some point I need to pick up birthday cards for great-nieces. That will be the big outing. Oh, and a meeting tonight. Maybe that will be a combined trip. Yippee.

I slept late this morning, maybe due to all the activity yesterday. So I don't have a lot of energy for running around anyway. It looks like it will not get above freezing all week and we may get a few snow showers here and there. 

I will do a bit of writing, although what I feel like doing is taking a nice long nap. Dodd men are always able to take nice long naps. And then we sleep all through the night afterward. I think there is feline blood in our ancestry somewhere.

PS -- That is not our icy drive in the photo. Ours is true black ice -- you can't see it at all. On the other hand, it is a very thin layer and not likely to be a problem for the vehicles.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

According to Fitbit, today ...

badge image
You've walked 40,000 steps
Not only did you earn the Cleats badge for this massive step tally, you gained a serious amount of traction on the leaderboard.

That's almost 18 miles today. And I got some writing done, too. Woo-hoo!