Saturday, April 30, 2016

Prayers from the ark

Parts of Texas had severe flooding after torrential rains last night. My mother woke up at two in the morning to discover water was pouring in under the front door. Fortunately she was unharmed, but the carpets were soaked and the wooden floor in the living room has already begun to buckle. She worked until four in the morning trying to get water off the floors. 

When I spoke with her this afternoon, she was waiting for a call back from a service to come dry things out. Another service told her they could come, but not until Monday. She is already planning for needed flooring replacement. This is considered flood damage, and her homeowner's insurance will not pay anything. The house is not in a flood plain and she never thought she would need insurance for this sort of thing. She will be able to pay for it, but it is an unexpected large expense. 

My generous sister-in-law and one of my nieces offered to go down to help her, but she told them she is fine. (I am a two-day drive away, and although my brother and his wife live in Texas, they are a full day's drive away, too.) What my mother needs, and what all of us would be unable to do, is professionals to come and get the water out of the carpets. She did not lose power and it sounds like damage to floor and carpet is the main thing.

Other people fared far worse than she did. Several lives were lost in Palestine, a town not far from her, where she and my father lived for a short time in the early 1990s. Water there rose to roof levels too fast for rescue workers to get everyone out of danger in time. So say a prayer for those in need, especially those who lost loved ones, property and prized possessions.

Weary of Wacky


Well, I have completed writing the story of Wacky in WhoVille. It is not in final form for publication, of course. I am going to set it aside for a while now to percolate before I do the final revision and editing of the final chapters. I enjoy much of the book, but I have to admit that writing the last bit became a dull slog. Not the story itself, with which I am fairly pleased. And I like the ending of the book better than the ending of the story, to be honest. But somewhere about the middle of April, the creative steam ran out. I plugged along to the end, but I am putting it aside to come back in a month or so. I hope by then I can do that final revision/editing with a fresh head.

That does not mean that I won't be writing at all. After several friendly pokes from a friend, I am pondering another Texas book. He suggested more about some of the characters in Blakesfield, the town in Except for His Wings. I am giving that thought, but I am drawing a blank so far. I suspect that I have told all there is in me to tell on that score. I am going to Texas to visit some of my family next month. Maybe that trip will strike a spark.

But I am thinking. Tom comes in and says, "What'cha doin'?" 

It must be hard to live with a writer when he/she is not actually sitting at the keyboard writing. When we are sitting and staring into space, it looks like we are doing nothing or are depressed or perhaps developing one of the many forms of dementia that you will find by going on the internet, which I highly recommend you don't do. Especially if you are supposed to be coming up with an idea for a book. Unless you want to do a book about dementia, which I don't.

When I meet new people, I sometimes make the mistake of telling them I am a writer or that I write. This leads to awkward questions, and not just the inevitable, "Where do you get your ideas?"
 "Have I seen anything you wrote?"
Not likely, unless you were looking for it
"What kind of things do you write?"
Oh, I have written mystery novels and novels about a college for misfits and books about meditation and spirituality and theological articles for magazines and reference works.
"What are you writing now?"
Nothing. Well, three or four things. I'm just thinking.
"Huh. Do you do something else?"
At least no one has asked me if you can make a living writing. The answer to which, by the way, is not unless you are one of a dozen thriller/romance/supernatural-genre-of-the-moment-author-syndicates. 

Which I ain't.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

About that quote at the top of this post. I would say it is about 80%.

Pink is the new orange?

I had a Cara Cara pink orange this morning. Really tasty, and I recommend them wholeheartedly. But it does raise some questions.

1) If it is pink, can we still call it an orange?
2) If the new orange is pink and orange is the new black, does this mean by the principle of transivity* that pink is the new black?

* In logic,  a relation between three elements such that if it holds between the first and second and it also holds between the second and third it must necessarily hold between the first and third: If A is bigger that B, and B is bigger than C, then A is bigger than C.

And if you think Sheldon Cooper would not have immediately wondered about this, you don't know Sheldon.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Going to the dogs

Our apartment complex is very pet-friendly. I mentioned that when we moved in, there was a sign on the kitchen island welcoming Tom, Michael, Sundance and Cassidy. In the leasing office, there is a large jar containing dog biscuits. There is a dog-washing station in the heated underground garage in each building. Green posts with baskets holding plastic bags for scooping up dog poop and a container in which to dispose full bags are scattered around the quad and along sidewalks.

We, of course, are blessed with cats. And there may be lots of cats in the complex, but they stay indoors and invisible. The dogs, on the other hand, of which there are many many many, have to be taken outdoors to walk and poop. So we see lots of dogs and their owners walking around, the dogs on long leashes and the owners stopping periodically to pick up what pooch left behind. I have to say that the vast majority of residents are quite conscientious about this. I do see evidence occasionally of negligence, but I suppose that might be from an unaccompanied canine passing through the area. At any rate, when I saw people bundled up and out with the dogs on sub-zero days back in the winter, I thanked the Powers that Be for our cats.

So part of the daily view from the study windows and balcony is the child care center I mentioned before, and another part is the unending dog show. Add in joggers, walkers, children riding bicycles or tricycles or scooters, birds flying over, airplanes departing and arriving at the airport a few miles to the west, giant power-generating windmills on the far horizon, traffic on High Crossing Boulevard and the interstate, wind tossing the flowering crab apple trees that line American Parkway, ducks in the retention pond, people climbing the hill over in Parkway Prairie to sit on the stone benches and look down on the surrounding scenery. And since we face west, amazing sunsets.

All in all, we landed in a pretty good place.

Despite what the cats think.

International Dance Day

International Dance Day was introduced in 1982 by the International Dance Council (CID, Conseil International de la Danse), a UNESCO partner NGO, and is celebrated yearly, on April 29. The main purpose of Dance Day events is to attract the attention of the wider public to the art of dance. Emphasis is given to addressing a new public, people who do not follow dance events during the course of the year.

I grew up in a religious tradition that frowned strongly on the evils of dance. There was a joke among the teenagers in the church: Christians should not have sex standing up, because there was always the danger that it could lead to dancing.

Like many beliefs of my youth and childhood, this is one I no longer hold. Although I no longer have many opportunities do dance myself, I periodically post something about this song, I Hope You Dance. Click and enjoy, and while you listen, I hope you dance.




Thursday, April 28, 2016

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Charming

Next door to our apartment building is Bright Horizons, an early education and day care center. Each morning, beginning before seven, we watch parents arrive to take in babies in carriers, walk hand in hand with toddlers and run behind racing three-year-olds into the building. Between four and six in the evening, the same process takes place but in the other direction. 

During the day, now that the weather permits, we see groups of children and their caretakers wander around in the yard and play areas. They seem to have plenty of tiny tricycles, which the children occasionally ride but more often push around, walking and leaning on them like their great-grandmother with her walker.

Occasionally, and I assume this is a special treat and perhaps a reward for exceptionally good behavior, several of the staff will line up ten or twelve kids and walk them up and down the sidewalk when traffic is sparse. They also have these enormous baby buggies that will host six babies at a time, and two of these get pushed around the circle in the parking lot to give even the babes a bit of fresh air.

Lately in the morning, I have noticed how many of the parents, having deposited their prides and joys in the hands and care of the Bright Horizon ladies (as far as I can tell, it is all women), will stop as they walk back to their cars and peer inside the large windows for a last look at the children. Some of them, the men in particular, will wave and jump up and down to attract the attention of their progeny.

It is really quite charming.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

From Rusty

My humorous humorist cousin, Rusty, sent me this today in an e-mail, saying it made him think of me.


Yes, I know that monks and friars are not the same thing, but it's just a joke.

And for those who do not know the difference, monks are English but it's French friars.

Ouch! Rusty's the humorist in the family, not me.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ditzy shoelaces

Recently Ur-Spo had a post about dressing-up/dressing down, reflecting on how people dress for work and such. I commented there that for most of my adult working life, I wore something of a uniform for formal occasions or when "at work"-- the Roman collar or the religious habit. The habit became much more comfortable, once I adjusted to it, partly because we often wore it around the monastery anyway. Both were essentially monochromatic -- black suit and collar (with that white tab) and a brown habit.

I recall the first time I met Fr. Terence Flynn, back in St. Louis in 1973. He was then the young provincial of the Washington Province of the Discalced Carmelites, and he looked a very trim and proper gentleman in a sharp black suit and collar. When someone commented on how clerical he looked, he said, "I have to look this way when I work." Then opening up the suit coat to reveal a bright paisley lining, he went on "But inside, I live!"

Thinking about Spo's post and that memory of Fr. Terence, I realized that although I wore the habit a lot, when I was in mufti, so to speak -- out of uniform -- I was more likely to dress with a certain flair. One of the things for which I was notorious was wearing colorful shoelaces in my tennis shoes. I had some that were red-and-white striped, some that were day-glo orange and yellow, some that were rainbows. I had Christmas ones and Halloween ones. I even had some battery-operated electric ones that lit up red, much to the amusement of children and bemusement of adults.

One of the brothers at Holy Hill was from a small town in Wisconsin and members of his family visited often. He told me once after he had been on a home visit that one of his sisters asked, "How's the priest with the ditzy shoelaces?"

That's me, folks.

Oh, Canada!

I recently read (on the internet, so take it for what it's worth) that in 2015 a Bloomberg poll showed that over 40% of United States citizens favored building a wall between the States and Canada.

They failed to report, however, that 83% of Canadians polled supported such a wall.

Bazinga!

I live in Wisconsin, where Republican governor and failed presidential contender, Scott Walker, famously said that building such a wall was a legitimate issue. Click here.
--------------------
PS -- I could have said that Walker is a failed Republican governor, but he has been quite successful in getting the Republican agenda in place in Wisconsin. So much so that the state has fallen desperately behind its neighbors in job creation, school funding, highway repair and just about every other measure of first-world civilization. 

And sadly, that is not a joke.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Indian food!

Friends from the Dells were in town this weekend and wanted to go out for Indian food at Swagat. They were here to attend a couple of sporting events -- he is a former college football coach -- and to visit their daughter and her husband and their brand new grandson. We have come to Madison for the lunch buffet at Swagat. It won best Indian restaurant in Madison again this year, and each trip shows us why. 

There is no buffet in the evening, and I took a safe choice with chicken biriyani. Not only was it delicious, but the portion was so large that I took half of it home. Tom had a Tandoori mix grill and also had plenty for another meal. We have both been eating carefully to shed some winter weight, which probably added to the tastiness of the meal.

All four of us were pleased with the food and we had a great visit. Tom and Debbie worked closely together on a number of political and conservation projects during our time in the Dells.  When she was alder on the Wisconsin  Dells city council, the library was one of her areas of responsibility, which gives the two of us something in common -- plus she reads my books! She showed us a reasonable number of photographs of the new baby and his proud parents. Tom presented her with a copy of Goodnight Moon to pass along and we parted laughing.

Nothing in particular on the books today. It drizzled and rained for a while this morning while I was on the treadmill at the fitness center. The sun has been playing hide-and-seek since then, and it is pleasantly warm. I may go for a short walk while Tom watches NASCAR. Or pack the laptop up, grab a cup of coffee and go to the library to write.

Hope your own weekend has been equally pleasant.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Happy International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day


Click to enlarge for easier reading.

Feel free to look this up by clicking here. I'm not sure I could explain it in a coherent and/or believable manner.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Chag Sameach


To our Jewish family and friends

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Spiritual synchronicity?

This morning at the library, I was writing a section of Wacky in which Damien is giving a lecture on frauds connected with spiritualism and things of that nature. (He points out, by the way, that the existence of frauds does not by itself alone disprove the tenets of a belief system, any more than the existence of counterfeiters disproves the value of legitimate currency.) At any rate, one of the stories he tells is about the Cottingley Fairies. 

Not exactly spiritualism, but it comes into the story by way of Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the hyper-rational Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle himself went in for all sorts of mystical ideas, and like so many people who had lost loved ones in wars, he found consolation in the teachings of spiritualism, in his case, a markedly Christian version. He also defended the Cottingley Fairies, a set of 1917 photographs taken in of one another by a couple of young cousins, photographs showing them posing with the fairies they claimed to have seen at the bottom of the garden. Decades later, the girls confessed to faking the photos --- or almost all of them -- while still contending that they had indeed seen fairies. They claimed they delayed their admission for decades in part because the famous Arthur Conan Doyle had defended the story.

The photos are quite unconvincing to the modern eye, although true believers continue to reproduce them in books as proof of something or other. The girls had traced pictures from a book, colored them, cut them out, attached them to pins and stuck the pins in the ground. I suppose it was the photoshop of its day, but even so, one would think even a child could tell they were not real.


At any rate, when I packed up the laptop and headed home for lunch, I passed alongside the children's section of the library on my way. On a spinner in the aisle I caught sight of a book: Brooke, the Photographer Fairy. This slim volume is part of a series by Daisy Meadows. Brooke, apparently, is one of the Fashion Fairies and her magic camera has been stolen by Jack Frost. I did not investigate further, but I found no immediate connection with the Cottingley fairies. A missed opportunity on the part of Ms. Meadows in my opinion.

Daisy Meadows. To quote George Takei, "Really?!"

On the other hand, don't you think The Cottingely Fairies would make a wonderful name for a gay heavy metal band?

Thursday morning impressions


Spring 
Cool air
Puffy clouds in hazy skies
Doves sitting on a neighboring balcony
A black terrier on a patio balcony at the far end of the building staring at the traffic
A passenger jet coming in for a landing at the airport
Windmills faintly discernible on the western horizon
Parents walking hand-in-hand with their children on the way into Bright Horizons 
          next door
Walkers, singly and in pairs, taking a morning stroll
Cars, trucks, SUVs streaming  by on American Parkway,
         turning into the side road to UW Hospital or American Family Insurance
A lone ground squirrel standing guard in the grass
Dandelions sprouting spots of yellow
Trees leafing out spring green, gray-green, purple-red
Sundance dozing on the cat perch in the study window
Cassidy alert on the rug by the balcony door
Washing machine gurgling and growling

Tom is on his way to the railroad. I will pack my computer; grab my gym bag and go lift weights; go to the library, visit the volunteer in the Read Before Book Store, get a cup of coffee and write. That will be my morning. This afternoon I will probably go for a walk and listen to a bit more of A Murder Is Announced.

And tend cats and tend cats and tend cats.

A new Big Bang Theory tonight, but the plot sounds familiar. I think the writers are running dry ... 

Don't tell anyone. It's a secret.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

#Rehash

And yes, you may have already heard this story:
A wise old woman sat in a large group of her friends, listening to them lament over their children, their grandchildren, their jobs, their finances.

Finally she broke into a gap in the litany of complaints and told a funny joke
Everyone laughed heartily.
A moment or two later, she told the same joke again. Fewer people laughed and others looked slightly embarrassed.
Five minutes later she told the joke for a third time and no one laughed. Instead, her friends looked at one another, wondering if the woman were losing it.

She smiled at them and said, "You can't laugh at the same joke again and again, can you? Why do you keep crying over the same thing over and over?"
Of course, we can laugh at the same joke more than once or twice. The very existence of endless re-runs of situation comedies on television is based on the premise that we can and will. But in some ways, we choose to be amused. The twist that makes something funny is already known to us, but we can decide not to jump ahead in our consciousness to spoil it. We can know and not-know at the same time, and thus we control our reaction somewhat and get more enjoyment out of an old story.

Jokes are fairly straight forward and usually have only one punch line. When reading a work of literature or listening to a piece of music, I can find new things with each new exposure to the story or the music. This complexity is one reason that I return again and again to favorite songs or books. Not all music or literature is worth revisiting very often, and those that are we call classics. I suppose that is one reason that remakes/rehashes/updates of old movies so often limp badly. A true classic need not be remade; it stands the test of time. A remake is usually an attempt to make something better that did not need improvement.

But back to the point: 
When I weep over the same old thing day after day, how much of that is due to the complexity of the tragedy continuing to unfold and wound me? How much of it is mere self-indulgence, the result of my choice to stare at only one part of the story?
Tragedies are real, suffering is real, grief is real. The Boston Marathon was yesterday, and the news in the States was filled with memories of the tragedy of the bombings there in 2013. These things happen, lives are changed forever, the damage ripples out over time and space. It would be foolish to think otherwise.

But I noticed on the news that among the threads of the complexity of that tragedy were tales of heroism,  of strength, of hope rising from disaster. Even in the face of an unfolding complex sadness, I can choose to follow hopeful threads in my pondering. Their light can stand out even more clearly against the darkness of the background. Where do I put the spotlight of my attention? Sometimes it is up to me where to shine the light.

And I need the light.



Monday, April 18, 2016

Retiree's financial question on Tax Day



How can I be broke all the time when I am living on what they call a fixed income?

In copia

There are several versions of a Dodd family coat of arms or crest. It is not clear to me which of these might apply to us instead of a parallel branch off that old forebear tree. There are several lines of Dodds, and since the name is thought to derive from a physical description of a person, they may not all have sprung from the same ancient Dod, Dodda or Dodde. [The surname Short, for example, need be not derived from only one short man centuries ago.] Whatever right I might or might not have to any of the crests, I like this one because of the motto.

You may not be able to read the phrase at the top: In copia cautus. It means, "Cautious among plenty."

In a word, prudent, careful about the future. An encouragement to social responsibility. Maybe even to environmental responsibility.

Many of us, individually and corporately, seem to find it difficult to be careful when we are surrounded by plenty. The temptation is to become arrogant, profligate, foolhardy. Selfish, self-centered. Wasteful.

Maybe my Dodd roots, whatever soil originally nourished them, are among the reasons I am frugal.

If so, I thank that long-ago round, plump fellow whose teasing neighbors gave him a nickname from a Germanic word meaning just that: round and plump. In time it became his name and somehow, through many generations, mine own. 

I would be willing to bet, he was short, too!


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Farmers and Merchants Union Bank

It was another grand day, sunny and a very warm 79 degrees (26.1 C) by mid-afternoon. We took a drive out into the country and wound up in Columbus. When I worked for hospice, I used to visit people there. We got out and walked around downtown -- a short walk of only a few blocks -- stopping to see the Farmers and Merchants Union Bank. The building was designed by Louis Sullivan, one of his so-called "Jewel Box" banks. Sullivan is known as the Father of the Skyscraper, and the bank's ornamentation looks a bit funny to me, like it had been intended for a larger building than the one it got. The 2009 Johnny Depp movie, Public Enemies, shot some scenes in Columbus, including a robbery at the bank. 



The  other thing I thought about Columbus was that it is one of the those small towns in Wisconsin where about 40% of downtown businesses are taverns, all of which were open on this early Lord's Day afternoon. Another 40% of the businesses are antique shops, none of which were open.

A step at a time perhaps, but take the first step


Warner Park

Yesterday was lovely and after lunch Tom and I went to Warner Park, 213 acres of woodland, sports fields, a fishing lagoon, pavilions and a bit of the shoreline of Lake Mendota, the northernmost and, at some 9700 acres, largest of Madison's four lakes. It was a perfect day for a long walk. Altogether we walked about a mile and a half (2.3 km) according to my Fitbit.

There was a lone but lovely sailboat out on Mendota, and benches scattered along the shoreline under shade trees invited us to return and enjoy the breeze off the water. It is only about a ten-minute drive from the apartment, and I expect we will make it one of our regular spots. The Madison Mallards baseball team's ball park is at Warner and parking is impossible during games, of course. But it looks like it will be quite accessible at other times.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Life observed





Kato asked how I managed to get the experience necessary to write Except for His Wings. Since not everyone reads the comments, I include here part of my response:

"Some of the events and sayings in Except for His Wings are stories adapted from family and other memories. In my years in the monastery, I not only studied Twelve Step programs (we were required to attend workshops on these topics every three years), but I knew/still know any number of people in such programs for many issues. The more I learned about addictions and the more I recognized the dynamic within myself, the more I saw how the teachings of John of the Cross about inordinate attachments applied to such things.
"The guy with wings came from who knows where, in my mind as well as in the book.

"Life provides us all with plenty of material for creating, whether it be books or drawings or song or dance. All I do is observe and ponder...

"Life, as they say in Jurassic Park, finds a way."

 I am, after all, almost 66 years old. I was born in Georgia; grew up in a small college town in East Texas; did my undergraduate work at Michigan State University; entered a monastery in Arkansas and became a priest in Dallas; spent three summers studying in Mexico; got a graduate degree from the University of Dallas; worked on a PhD (I am ABD) at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC ; and lived, laughed, prayed and worked in monasteries in San Antonio, Dallas, Boston, DC, Wisconsin, and Chicago. I spent a sabbatical year as a live-in chaplain for a community of cloistered nuns while taking writing courses at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and I preached a brief homily every morning while there. I spent an amazing year at St. Louis University in a program for religious men and women from all over the world. I listened to thousands of people from all works of life share intimate details of their life as part of my ministry for three decades. I met a future pope, worked for a cardinal and am on friendly terms with a Lebanese archbishop in Iraq. I know priests who became monsignors and bishops; I know priests who became pedophiles, bankrupted their dioceses and ruined innocent lives while some of the bishops tried to cover up what was happening. After leaving the monastery, I worked for Catholic non-profits, clerked in a department store, managed a museum shop and ran a bookmobile.


I've seen sun and I've seen rain. I have lived in the country, in the suburbs, in the city.

I have been a voracious reader since childhood, in part because of having to wear braces and special shoes for a while to correct a problem with my legs and feet. I have a near-eidetic memory that is starting to fail or fade. But lots of words, pictures, events -- some true, some fiction, many partially or mostly distorted by time and internal re-writing -- are stored away between my ears.

Tom says there is a lot of room in there because my head was empty to start with.

Whatever. 

I have been surprised a bit by the enthusiastic reaction that Except for His Wings has received from my (handful of) readers. My mother tells me the people at her senior center are lined up to borrow the copy I sent her, something that did not happen with previous volumes. Maybe that is because of the Texas connection. Since it was a National Novel Writing Month project, I spent less time on it than on any of my other writings. Although I did a bit of research on minor things having to do with raising pecans, it mostly emerged, four or five thousand words each morning of November last, from my imagination, fueled by my own life experiences or fabricated from misty dreams,


Go thou, and do likewise!



A memory, a lesson and cats


One of the friars at Holy Hill was famous for saying, when things went awry, "Well, now we try Plan C" or "Plan G" and so on.  

I have also been told that all plans succeed -- some in accomplishing your goal and some in showing you that a particluar path does not lead where you want to go.
---------------
On a side note, the cats were annoyingly feline this morning. They hounded Tom until he got up and let them out of his room. (Can cats hound?)  Sundance came to rouse me out. I was already up and getting dressed, but she was very demanding. I put her pill in a small bit of food and put it down. Cassidy showed up and I put out a bowl for her. Cassidy licked hers and then disappeared. Sundance ate the half of her bit that did not contain the pill and then left. I put her bowl on the counter for later. Otherwise Cassidy, having refused her food, would run over and eat Sundance's.

 Ten minutes or so later, Sundance gave me "the look" and I put her food back down. She looked at it and walked away. I put it on the counter and went onto the balcony for a few seconds. When I came back, she was eating the food in Cassidy's bowl. I took that away and gave her the pill-laden bit due her and she finally deigned to eat it. Third time's the charm, as they say. 

Hmm. Maybe that was a Plan C?

Gonna be one of those days.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Religious life residue

By the term religious life in the title of this post, I mean a form of life found in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and some other Christian communities, a life often lived in community and marked by vows or promises, usually of poverty, chastity and obedience. (Similar forms of life, of course, are found outside the Christian tradition.) Think monk, nun, friar and so on. Although some communities have different vows, often related to a specific mission, or somewhat varying interpretations of the three common ones, that doesn't matter for the purposes of this post.

I spent three decades as a member of a Roman Catholic religious community, the Discalced Carmelite Friars, as regular readers know. I spent the years 1972 to 2004 basically paying little attention to the price of most things. Sometimes found myself in the role of the person doing grocery shopping for the community, but I had little ongoing contact with ordinary living expenses. Another friar in the community took care of paying bills and making community purchases. For the limited personal expenditures I made on my own, with a small weekly stipend provided by the community, I tended to shop thrift stores and discount outlets. (I did not get a salary as such from the community and all my earnings for various things went directly into the community purse.) I took my personal vow of poverty quite seriously and did not buy much.

When I left the monastery in 2004, with no pension or financial assistance (beyond being kept on their health insurance for a year, which was very generous), I was making a very small salary. Friends introduced me to larger and better thrift stores, but in general I continued to do without what I did not absolutely need and to spend little on what I did. 

Tom and I are very comfortably off when it comes to finances, but we are both ... frugal, shall we say. (He and Michelangelo are the ones who introduced me to those better thrift stores, after all.) When we eat out, I instinctively look for the less expensive items on the menu. When we go shopping for something for the apartment -- most recently furniture for the balcony -- I find that we automatically look at the lower end of the price range. It is, as the GEICO commercials say, what we do.

I realized the other day, however, that we can easily afford to pay more and that this gives us more options.

More relaxed, I turned my attention to some of those other choices. When I looked at the prices, however, I was horrified to see that people spend hundreds of dollars for a single patio chair, that a set of two chairs and a table can cost more than my first car. Admittedly inflation accounts for much/most of this, but I still get sticker shock.

I don't exactly blame my thirty years in the monastery for this. No one is to blame. But that culture inadvertently prevented/protected me from noticing how things were changing around me. 

Even now I save the rubber bands that wrap the greenery on green onions and save them in a cup on the kitchen counter. I keep the plastic ties from bread wrappers in the same cup. There are probably paper clips in my desk supplies that I have been using for a decade.

Now you know another part of my dark story.

Yada-yada

In a famous Seinfeld episode, George complained that his girlfriend often filled in her stories with the expression "yada-yada" leaving out much of the detail. This left him in the dark and drove him crazy, especially since the stuff she glossed over with yada yadas was what he most wanted to hear. It was like a writer telling a long and complicated joke and then, upon finally reaching the punch line, inserting ...

Needless to say, the expression quickly made its way into popular American discourse, along with such other Seinfeld contributions as "Not that there's anything wrong with that" and "Serenity now!"

This morning as I re-read what I already wrote for Wacky in WhoVille, I discovered how insidious the yada-yada can be. 

In a crucial section following the crisis/climax of the book, I find that I had merely written yada, yada, yada. 

Fortunately this was not a large lacuna and it did not take a lot of time to fill.  On the other hand, I wonder how many yada-yada gaps lie ahead ...
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Obsessive-compulsive research librarian note: This particular episode, I have since learned, will be re-broadcast tomorrow evening on TBS. A fine example of coincidence, synchronicity, yada, yada, yada. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Prairie fire

Many mornings after I exercise and shower, I head to the Sun Prairie Library and put in some writing time. I get a cup of coffee from the used book store and settle with my laptop in what is called the study tower, a hexagonal room with a high ceiling and windows looking out onto small areas of restored prairie on two sides of the library. After the winter, the shoulder-high and taller prairie grasses are dried and yellowed, waving in the wind. Across the road in one direction is a city park, and beyond the tall grass in the other direction one can see the recently-tilled soil in the 146 rental plots in the town's community garden.

This morning because of where the sun came in the windows, I did not sit at my usual spot where I can look out on a small bit of prairie. Instead I sat at a table built into one of the angles of the tower, facing the wall but with light coming from my right side.

After I had been writing for about half an hour, I glanced over at the window and discovered that the library seemed to be surrounded by fire. I got up for a closer look, and indeed the dry grass was burning on both sides of the tower. 

The fire created quite a stir among the children in the library and their parents. No need to panic, however. It turned out to be a controlled burn, a training session for several of the fire departments in our area. A controlled burn is not only part of the training of the firefighters. It is also one way of maintaining an approximation of the natural life cycle of prairie plant life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

We used to live in the Windy City ...

"I just blew in from the windy city.
The windy city is mighty pretty,
But they ain't got what we got, no sirree."

~ from Calamity Jane 




When we first moved in, we heard what sounded like someone practicing a flute or a recorder nearby. We thought for a while it was our downstairs neighbor and that she wasn't very skilled. Then we realized it was not a human being but an aeolian wind harp. Sort of like wind chimes, but instead of metal bits clanging together, hollow tubes whistle when the wind blows through and around them. Again we assumed it was the apartment below us, in part because of the Tibetan prayer flags flapping on their balcony.

The sound is only apparent when the wind is really blowing and we quickly got used to its rare appearance.

A few weeks later, as I was walking down the sidewalk by American Parkway, I looked over at our apartment and tried to figure out where the harp was. It turned out not to be on the balcony downstairs but on the balcony of an apartment on our floor but two doors down. That balcony also had Tibetan prayer flags, so at least we were in the ballpark with our assumptions. 

The thing itself looks like a simplified miniature version of this:




We know the people who live in both apartments and often run into them when they are out walking their dogs. None of us have never mentioned the wind harp. I wonder, though, that the sound doesn't set dogs to howling when it hits the higher registers. Our building is full of dogs. But our apartment is actually rather quiet. We almost never hear a dog barking when we are in the apartment, although we do when we are out in the hallways.

Of course, when the weather gets warmer -- it will get warmer, it will, it will! -- and we open windows, things may get a bit noisier.

Why write?

I woke to a small snow flurry this morning. Sundance was on a tear, and maybe the weather had something to do with it. A couple of days ago, we got chairs for the balcony. Yesterday the whole family spent time enjoying the afternoon sun out there. And today, this. But hey! It's not softball-sized hail, right?

We weren't expecting even this slight precipitation, and it is supposed to get above 50 (10C) today. My plan is to go do weights and then hit the library to do some work on Wacky. Rich is coming to Madison on an errand and Tom plans to go out to lunch with him. I may join them, depending on how other things are going. 

May you make something beautiful today with your smile.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Texas weather

I complained about the weather here, but family in Texas has had a worse time of it. My brother and sister-in-law are in Amarillo this week for him to teach a class. They are staying in their RV and night before last were hit with 87 mile-an-hour (140 kph) winds. The RV survived, despite some major rocking, but my sister-in-law's car had the rear window smashed out by blowing debris. My niece and her husband live near Dallas, and they had softball-sized hail to contend with. Their home suffered some damaged, lost siding and shingles with holes punched through in places.

Puts my whining about chilly mornings into perspective.