Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Hallow ... err, Holidays?

After a writing stint at Starbucks this morning, I stopped to pick up some candy, just in case we have trick-or-treaters. Usually we only get a visit from one neighbor's grade-school son. This year his little sister may be old enough to join him. But it is unpredictable. I think we were here for six or seven years without any visitors. Of course, we live on a country road, no street lights and until recently, only the one nearby family with children. The people who built next to us a couple of years back have four kids and another due any day, but they don't seem to be the trick-or-treating sort.

At any rate, we always have a bowl of mini-Snickers on the buffet. Depending on how well we are behaving ourselves and how often the non-trick-or-treating kids have paid a visit, the bowl can last for months. But it is a little low and I wanted to fill it up. Semper paratus, as they say.

I figured I might luck out and find Halloween candy already on sale so they could clear the shelves. I got there about ten o'clock and most of the Halloween stuff had indeed already been cleared. The shelves were now filled with Christmas candy.

Not that any trick-or-treaters would care, of course.

The end [of Daylight Saving Time] is near!


Don't forget to turn all your watches, clocks, and such back tonight!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Not quite a goodbye but ...

Not until I was driving to the library for my volunteer stint this morning did I realize that this was going to be my last day doing this particular thing. Starting next week, of course, I will be at the library three days a week for an hour and a half each time as a resource person for the NaNoWriMo participants and to do some of my own writing. But NaNoWriMo is a special case, not my usual task of finding books that are on order from other libraries in our system, processing them and sorting them into the appropriate bins for shipping them off. That ended today, at least officially. My non-NaNoWriMo duties are cancelled for November because I will be busy with the writing thing and come December, Tom and I go into final-final prep and move mode. At that point, my trips to the library will consist primarily of dropping off bags filled with books we are donating to the book sale.

Other things moved into place this week, things like getting renter's insurance resolved and some progress on the sale of the house. In about six weeks, the apartment will be open and we will start taking things down there. Tom is talking about scheduling the movers who will handle the heavy furniture. Time apparently flies, whether you're having fun or not.

Changes are beginning to creep up on me.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

White

One of the small pleasures of living here on Berry Road is that there are white squirrels. Most of them are in the area where Berry intersects with Birchwood Road, but as readers of the blog know, we have seen white squirrels in our own back yard.

I have sometimes referred to them as albino squirrels, but I think I was wrong. Here is an image of a true albino squirrel. Note the pink eyes.



Below is a photograph that Michelangelo took last year of a white squirrel under our bird feeder.


It looks to me like his/her eyes are dark. If that is the case, what we have is not an example of albinism but of leucism:
  • Leucism (from the Greek, leukos, white) is a genetic peculiarity due to a gene, recessive in most cases, which gives a white color to the fur or feathers of animals which normally would have a different color.
  • Albinism (from the Latin albus, white) is a congenital anomaly consisting of a total or partial deficiency of melanin pigmentation in the skin, iris and choroid, and also in the fur or plumage. It is caused by an absence or defect of tyrosinase, the enzyme which is involved in the synthesis of melanin — the pigment that gives skin, hair, and eyes their color. True albinos have pink eyes.
Of course, Michelangelo's photo through the dining room window may not be clear enough to be sure, and I have never been able to get very close to one. But my impression is that they have dark eyes.

I mention this now because, due to extensive road and utility work at the Berry-Birchwood intersection this past spring and summer, we had not seen any white squirrels for quite a while. I wondered, in fact, if the disruption to their usual habitat had made them re-locate. Yesterday, however, on my way back from Starbucks, I saw one in the woods just after I turned onto Berry Road. 

It takes very little to make me happy sometimes.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Is it just me?

[Before I start this mini-rant, I want to say that I realize I am talking about what is happening in the northern hemisphere and that you good folks who live in the southern hemisphere are moving into greater light each day. Lucky you! I mention this because today I got a lovely message from a reader in the Land Down Under.]
Today was rainy and cold and the sun set here on our hopes and dreams at 5:55. This weekend, Daylight Saving Time ends, which means Sunday night the sun will set at 4:49. From December 4 through December 14, locally our sunset will be at 4:22
Yes, I know our northern winter solstice will be December 22 this year. The earliest sunset and latest sunrise dates differ from winter solstice, however, and these depend on latitude, due to the variation in the solar day throughout the year caused by the Earth's elliptical orbit.
Well, Sheldon Cooper, what's your point?

I like longer days better than I like longer nights! When the sun goes down before 4:30 in the afternoon, my mind starts preparing to go to bed soon. I look at the clock and see that It is not yet seven! But I still feel like going to bed ...

Maybe it's an aging thing.

To be fair, once Daylight Saving ends, I won't feel like I am on my way to the gym in the middle of the night. Today, for example, the sun rose (behind the rain clouds, that is) at 7:35. Next week it will be up at 6:35. I usually head for the gym before six, but this will still be an improvement.

It all comes out in the wash, as my mother says, if you rub hard enough.

Writing through the pain, er, I mean, through the rain

I did manage to get some writing done today. I took a short snooze after lunch and then a bit of caffeine jump-started my brain. 

I finished writing a scene in Wacky and got the next one written as well. Then I pulled out the preparatory materials for NaNoWriMo and things really started popping in my head. 

When I looked again at a character who was a pretty two-dimensional (at best!) kind of villain, I realized that he had actually been the narrator's best friend in high school and that -- you'll have to read the book for details -- circumstances turned his friendship to resentment. This is all connected to the narrator's wife leaving him before the novel begins and will tie up nicely in the conclusion I have in mind. Not so neatly as to broadcast the solution in the earlier pages, I hope.

My mother's recently-adopted kitten, Sweet Thing, and our Cassidy have morphed into a feline character who, at least at the moment, is cast for only a minor role. It may just be the caffeine talking, but I'm kind of excited about where this thing could go once I really start writing next Sunday.

Of course, I know from past experience with NaNoWriMo that the story I have in mind the morning of November 1 may not be the book I wind up with at 11:59 p.m. on November 30. 

And the book I wind up with on November 30 may not be the book that eventually gets into print.

Note to self: Stock up on coffee!

Michael's morning maybes

Maybe it was seeing the threat of snow. (Okay, at most the threat of a snowflake or two mixed in with rain.) Maybe it was because Wednesday is my usual break day from the gym. Maybe it was the rainy morning and chilly temperatures. Maybe it was the fact that I woke up at about three in the morning and did not doze off again until after five. At which point, Sundance decided to come into my room, roam around mumbling loudly and periodically jumping on the bed to walk over me as a reminder that I was in bed and she was ready for her morning snacks. I pulled the comforter tight and tried to ignore the feline complaints, but by seven o'clock, I gave up. So I started the day off with a sleep deficit.

Whatever it was, and it was probably a combination of all those things, my energy level this morning has been minimal. I am not feeling low emotionally, not feeling fatigued, just feeling unmotivated to accomplish anything. I did go to the gym to talk to the manager about what I need to do with the membership when we move. He wasn’t there, although it was during regular office hours. I waited around for a bit and played with my tablet, but Jeremy did not show up. There is no rush on this, so no big deal. I am there five days a week but too early for office hours. I will manage, though. After that futile effort, I went to the supermarket to pick up stuffed pork chops for Tom to prepare for dinner tonight. Then back home to look at my writing projects but not to do anything with them. 

Maybe after lunch …

Whether or weather

When I went to check the weather app to see when the rain we are having this morning will end, I was a bit dismayed to read this:
Day: Light rain is expected during the day. It'll be cold with a high of 51. [10.6 C]
Night: Light rain and snow are expected in your area. It'll be very cold with a low of 36. [2.2 C] There will be rain in the early morning. Temperatures near freezing.
SNOW?

 Well, obviously not this bad. And it could be worse. Three years ago on this date it dropped to 21 [-6.1 C]! 

On the brighter side, at least for our December/January moving plans, the coming Wisconsin winter is supposed to be somewhat warmer and drier than average.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Haircut, writing, moving on

I got a haircut this morning. The barbershop that Tom and I use has one experienced barber -- also named Mike -- and a younger guy who graduated from cosmetology school within the last couple of years. He is clearly gay and Mike, who is clearly not, is training him. Mike usually cuts my hair, but the young guy has done it a couple of times. When he first started, it took him a long time but today it went pretty quickly. 

He recently moved and we chatted about the ends and outs of moving while he worked on my cowlicks. He did a good job. When I went to pay him, he was going to charge me the full price, but Mike called out that I am eligible for the senior discount. I was pleased to see the young guy look (or at least pretend to look) surprised. It was better for him in the long run, because he wound up with a better tip.

From there I headed to Starbucks for coffee and to do some writing. I plodded along with Wacky in WhoVille for a while, then reviewed what I had written on the second John of the Cross mystery. The mystery has potential, but it is a garbled mess at the moment. I think I will try to complete it, but it is third on the list. Next Sunday is November 1 and I have to start work on the NaNoWriMo novel. That will be pretty much all that I manage next month. Part of my library project will be writing for an hour and a half three days a week at the library and being available to help keep the other participants motivated. When NaNoWriMo is over, I will have one final meeting for those who want to talk about where to go from there if they want to publish.

As soon as that is over, we will have to start final preparations for moving and begin transitioning to Madison mid-December when the apartment opens up. Depending on what is happening on the sale of the house at that time, there may be more to do. Even in the best-case scenario, there will be plenty.

And then in the middle of all that, we go to Chicago for a couple of days to celebrate Christmas ...

Stressed? Who, moi?

Tuesday turkeys

On the way home from Reedsburg this morning, I came upon two wild turkeys strolling down Berry Road some 100 yards from the house. At first they stayed in the middle of the road, speeding up and moving from side to side. Eventually they took off flying, one veering off to the right before getting to the Dorns house and the other finally sailing off to the left into the middle of Jerry's field.

I was reminded of being at Holy Hill in the late 1980s when wild turkeys were being re-introduced to the area. Fr. Daniel and I were out walking one evening and startled one, who promptly flew up and perched in a tree. It was an unexpected sight. 

You may recall a famous episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, in which live turkeys were dropped from a helicopter in a Thanksgiving Day promotional stunt. Those fictional birds were domesticated and it did not end well. The episode concludes with the famous line, "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!" It had us rolling on the floor in hysterics.

The clip is four or five minutes, but it is well worth watching. Click the arrow and be amazed.


I was quite surprised to learn that wild turkeys indeed can and do fly. Butterballs, on the other hand ...

Monday, October 26, 2015

Moons and mammals

On my way to the gym this morning, I was struck at what seemed to be light from the rising sun shining behind the clouds in front of me. But I was heading west. 


When the clouds parted, I could see that it was an enormous almost-full moon, not the sun, that was shining bright in the early morning.

Tonight will be the final supermoon of 2015, the Hunter's Moon. While it won't be bringing a total lunar eclipse with it, the full moon will appear slightly larger, the optical illusion that makes it a supermoon.
.
September's supermoon had the added bonus of a total lunar eclipse. It became a "super blood moon" loaded with potential conspiracy theories. Despite the "end of days" talk, the supermoon total lunar eclipse was mostly a good show for those who looked up out of curiosity. 

The whole end of days things reminds me of a scene in the stage production of A Man For All Seasons, when the Common Man, who serves as a sort of Greek chorus, is spotlighted out of the darkness of the tragedy.
"I'm breathing. Are you breathing? It's nice, isn't it?"
 After every prediction of the end of days, I wake up breathing. It is nice.

October's supermoon will only be a Hunter's Moon as it is the next full moon after the Harvest Moon, September's full moon that took place closest to the Autumnal equinox October's full moon gets its name because Native Americans would take the opportunity to hunt ahead of winter, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac. Given how bright the moon was this morning, and not quite full, I can see why they did so.

And a note on wildlife: Lately I have seen wild turkeys, foxes and even elk on my trips to and from the gym. Seeing elk sounds exotic, but I pass an elk farm on the way, so it is not much more unusual than seeing llamas and alpacas here in Wisconsin. Farm animals!

New services

Our power company -- whom I like a lot -- just switched to a new billing format. On the whole, it is better and easier to understand. The brochure that came in the mail to explain it has this paragraph:
Our new billing system requires a 10-digit account number rather than the current nine-digit number. Changing account numbers may be an initial inconvenience, but this change means new services.
That sounds interesting, but I note that they do not go on to specify any of the wonderful new services this extra digit will bestow upon us. 

I am reminded of what happened a few years ago when our phone provider was bought out by another provider. During that transition, we got a similar bill telling us that they had changed our account number. To make it simpler for us, this new number incorporated our telephone number. What they did not mention was that the new account number replaced an eleven-digit number with a sixteen-digit number. 

I didn't notice any new benefits accruing there, either.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Enough

The one who knows he has enough is rich. 
~ Lao Tzu
Also translated, The one who knows enough is enough will always have enough.

In the monastery we learned to ask ourselves, is this a need or a want? Not that there was necessarily anything wrong with a want, but we desired to make our choices consciously. One result was that we did not have to get agitated when we did not get something -- that is when we did not get everything -- we wanted.

Solo Dios basta, according to a note found in one of St. Teresa's books after her death. Which can be translated "Only God suffices" or "God alone suffices" or "God is enough alone."

I would have said that Tom and I live fairly frugally. Which we do. Cheap, I think, is the word others might use to describe us. And we have always had the custom of cleaning out closets at least once or twice a year and donating clothes and other items to St. Vincent de Paul or to Goodwill and such places. But even so, we have accumulated way more than enough. 

One blessing of this move will be getting closer to the enough that will always be enough.

I am reminded of something one of the friars told me once. Because of the vow of poverty, Carmelites (like many others, I am sure) found it very hard to get rid of things, even when they wore out. So they stored stuff away in the basement or the attic, just in case it might be useful or reparable in some distant future.

Terrence told me that he used to refer to each new superior as a basement man or an attic man. The new superior always arrived determined to clean out the clutter that had accumulated. Prior One would have everything in the basement moved to the attic. Prior Two would come along three years later and have everything in the attic stored in the basement. There was a lot of activity, but never any progress. No one could bring himself to actually throw anything away.

When I was subprior at Holy Hill in the late 1980s, I decided to clean out one of the storage rooms that was particularly full of junk. Among the things I found was a stack of unused penny postcards. The last time you could send a postcard for a penny through the United States mail was 1951. I am sure that the friars kept them on hand, because you could always add additional postage by affixing a stamp. But no one ever did. 

And don't even ask me how many broken and useless alarm clocks I threw out! Or dried up ballpoint pens. Or ...

Seasons

Joe posted a couple of nice pieces about seasons over on The Closet Professor.

And that got me thinking about my own experience of seasons right now. There is, of course, the autumn glory outside, fading now as leaves fall and those that linger change to rusty browns. It is a beautiful time in Wisconsin, as it is in New England where Joe has recently moved from Alabama. But I am aware of other changes in our life.
Tom and I are packing things away to move to Madison. Although the apartment where we will live is a nice size, as apartments go, and looks even larger because of high ceilings and large windows opening onto spacious views, we will actually have about half the living space we enjoy in the house on Berry. So packing up involves lots of getting rid of things. Today, for example, I have been selecting the dishes we will take with us and packing others up for St. Vincent de Paul. To give you an idea, Tom likes clear glass coffee mugs. I counted 24 of them this morning. This is in addition to ten other mugs. Clearly -- pun intended -- we will not have room for all of them.
 
Because for almost ten years we have been hosting family Christmas here, we have enough clear glass dishes for a dozen people -- plates, bowls and saucers. And we have two sets of dishes to provide for the needs of our kosher kids. And we have ... well, it is a lot to clear out and there is a small tug at letting go of the dishes I brought from my studio apartment in Chicago, the square plates I found at a thrift store to use when we have Asian food, the huge collection of Clay Art dinnerware with the jalapeƱo motif, something reserved for Mexican food especially when we had guests. As much fun as it has been to have all these, we will no longer have any place to store things we will only use once every few months. 

As I go through my own things, I find books that I have had since my university days, books I have not looked at in years although I took them from the dorm to the apartment I shared with Lee and two other guys the summer after I graduated; to  monasteries in Little Rock, San Antonio, Dallas, Washington, DC, Boston, St. Louis, Wisconsin, Chicago; to my studio apartment in Chicago and then to our apartment on Kimbark in Hyde Park and finally here to the Dells. These are so tattered that even St. Vincent de Paul would have no use for them, and like the trees in autumn with their leaves, it is time to let them go.

To everything, as Joe's quotation of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 reminds us, there is a season: a time to keep, and a time to throw away.

It is time. The right time.

Pain in the neck

About eight o'clock last night, my neck suddenly began to get stiff and achy. Tom suggested that I may have strained the muscles while lugging canvases upstairs in the afternoon, which is as good an explanation as any, I suppose. At any rate, I took some acetaminophen and slept well enough. 

As this morning has progressed, however, the ache is back. I decided to skip the gym and hope that the problem will work itself out over the course of the day. I hate to take painkillers and will try to get by without them. This is only a dull ache, not a sharp pain. I am blessed not to have to deal with the blinding headaches that my friends Steve and Joe suffer with some regularity.

On the bright side, when I went shopping this morning, I got a loaf of Italian bread. When I picked it up, it was still warm from the oven!

Maybe I should apply the heat to my neck ...




Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fall reminder

As the days grow shorter, the night comes sooner and daylight arrives later, I am reminded of this Chasidic story: 



A wise old rabbi asked his students how to determine that day has come. Among a number of religions, this is important for determining when certain things need or must be done. In the Quran, for example, rules for fasting during the day say that day comes when you can distinguish a light thread from a dark one.

Some students suggested that it is day when you can see your hand at the end of your arm. Others contended that it was day when you can distinguish a man from a tree in the distance. 

The rabbi shook his head.

"Day has come, when you look into the face of any man or woman and recognize your brother or sister. Until then the night is still here."

Rain, wood, arts

Yesterday was cool with periods of rain that continued into the night. About three this morning a more intense rain storm came through, though without thunder and lightning in our area.I was awakened, however, and did not manage to get back to sleep.



Finally about 4:30, I got up, fed the cats, made coffee and breakfast. Tom was up, too, but he planned to go back to bed when I headed out to the gym. There was mist and some fog on my way to and from the gym, but little traffic that early on a Saturday morning. Later in the morning we got more showers. That and the wind shook down more leaves, which have been falling like those that Milton, in Paradise Lost, wrote "strew the streams in Vallombrosa." Apparently, the trees in Vallombrosa are chiefly pines and do not strew the streams with autumn leaves. Still, it is a phrase that has lasted.

Despite the damp and cool, Dave and Carl both came to cut wood today. Tom was delighted. He could not help, of course, being still in recuperative mode, but he enjoyed talking with them while they cleared some dead growth.

Early afternoon, some people from Little Eagle Arts Foundation came by to pick up art supplies that Tom is donating to them. They got a large bin filled with acrylics and brushes, two large easels and more than a dozen large canvases. It was good exercise for me, helping haul things upstairs. The real challenge was keeping Tom from hoisting things. He kept an easel and just enough materials to (maybe) finish a painting or two. 

Mainly he wants to be able to stage his studio in case we wind up putting the house on the market next month and need to show it to prospective buyers. Helen introduced him to Property Brothers on HGTV, and now he is all excited about getting to set the house up to lure potential buyers. I think he may be slightly disappointed if our present prospect gets her financing and he doesn't have a chance to play interior decorator.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Writing challenges


Not all of you may feel up to the job of cranking out 50,000 words over the course of the thirty days which hath November. But there are still things you might want to consider, brief compositions, which like the finest cameos are small, delicate and perfectly formed.

For example,

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest


Where “WWW” means “Wretched Writers Welcome”

Named in dishonor of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who (not Snoopy, as too many suppose) in his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, began with those stirring words
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” 
the contest is for those who wish to submit the worst possible opening line they can compose.

To quote the website, "The official deadline is April 15 (a date that Americans associate with painful submissions and making up bad stories). The actual deadline is June 30."

Visit the website for more information. Be sure to click on the tab for Contest Winners to sample genius such as these:
 "She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination."  
~ Chris Wieloch, Brookfield, WI -- 2013 Winner
 "Seeing how the victim's body, or what remained of it, was wedged between the grill of the Peterbilt 389 and the bumper of the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT, officer "Dirk" Dirksen wondered why reporters always used the phrase "sandwiched" to describe such a scene since there was nothing appetizing about it, but still, he thought, they might have a point because some of this would probably end up on the front of his shirt."
~ Joel Phillips, West Trenton, NJ
-- 2015 Winner

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Does familiarity really breed contempt?



The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. In social psychology, this effect is sometimes called the familiarity principle

The effect has been demonstrated with many kinds of things, including words, Chinese characters, paintings, pictures of faces, geometric figures, and sounds. In studies of interpersonal attraction, the more often a person is seen by someone, the more pleasing and likable that person appears to be. You may remember thinking that So-and-so was pretty plain when you first met, but now you think she or he is quite cute.

In that last sentence, "she or he" may have somehow jarred you, because you are more familiar with "he or she" in common usage. Although the meaning is exactly the same, one feels right, and the other may feel like it represents an invasive agenda.

This might explain why someone running for public office may seem totally off-putting in the beginning of the campaign, and yet as time goes on, although the person's statements remain unchanged, public perception gradually grows friendlier. Those who do not like the person enough to turn off the television or switch channels every time she or he appears on the screen and who remain unaffected by mere exposure because they have limited their exposure, may have difficulty understand why other people start liking the person that they continue to find unappealing. 

Since Americans seemed inclined to self-censor exposure to opinions different from those already held, we select news programs that show us people with whom we agree more than those with whom we disagree, or shows them to us in favorable contexts and the others in unfavorable ones. What began as perhaps chance mere exposure develops into more-than-mere-exposure and almost exclusive-exposure.

A statistical analysis of voting patterns found that a candidate's exposure has a strong effect on the number of votes the candidate receives, distinct from the popularity of the policies the candidate advocates.

And if you think advertisers, preachers,political activists and campaign managers of all stripes are unaware of this dynamic, think again!

On the other hand, studies also show that the effect is far from universal. Where there is strong hostility between groups of people, greater exposure sometimes exacerbates the hostility, perhaps because each group is predisposed to perceive the other in a way that confirms the basis for hostility. This may be why people with strong prejudices against gay people are not changed when someone they know and like comes out of the closet. They may simply decide that the person had been deceiving them in the past, which proves how bad gay people are.

[I wish I could say I made that last bit up, but I happen to know of a specific instance where this is exactly what happened.]