Thursday, December 28, 2006

the week that was

The day after Christmas and I’m sitting here at the cottage enjoying the winter sunset. The clouds are high and wispy and the setting sun is coloring them bright orange and yellow. Looking out the window and through the birch trees on the lake shore, I feel a contentment and peace that has eluded me for the past couple weeks.

So far since arriving here yesterday afternoon I have finished reading one book, started another one, completed three crossword puzzles (one was the New York Times Sunday puzzle. Check out the movie, Wordplay, if you want to know how cool that is). watched a movie, slept until after 9 AM this morning, spent an hour exercising, cooked a big pot of chili, managed to sneak in a half hour nap, broiled a couple steaks, and did the dishes. All Mary did was walk the dog and clean up the cat puke on the bedspread. Oh yeah, she drove into town to buy me some wine and brandy. So she hasn’t been totally derelict.

The usual holiday chaos has abated now that Christmas day is past and the New Year’s Eve plans are subdued and nothing to get too excited about. So we are finally able to decompress for a couple days before heading home and resuming the normal hectic schedule. That is, Mary’s hectic schedule. My idea of hectic is if I have to leave the house for any reason. Still, after a couple more days here we will be ready to resume our normal routine.

Since I don’t have internet access readily available here at the cottage (I’d have to go into town to the library or some other hot spot to get connected), I’ll just keep adding to this each day and then publish it at home when we get back. Or not…….

Another day, another addition to this drivel………

We must have had our quota of sunshine yesterday, because today is gray and dreary, with no hint of sun poking through the dense washed out atmosphere. Staying inside today is no hardship. Mary, feeding one of her fetishes, has spent the morning cleaning, while I stretched and exercised again in an effort to keep everything attached to this old skeleton functioning.

The whine of the vacuum cleaner Mary is maneuvering around the smallish confines of our cottage means that I don’t get to listen to any music while I work my muscles back into usefulness. Listening to some classic rock, or even some classical music along the lines of Mozart, makes the strain of exercising more tolerable and helps to speed the time of effort along. Without music, I start counting the minutes, and even the seconds, until I can convince myself that all that self flagellation has had some good effect. A heavy dose of Advil, after completing the exercise routine, helps to ease the transition back into my customary state of dissolution that will prevail the rest of the day until sleep overtakes me. At least that’s the plan.

Add in a couple glasses of Cabernet at happy hour this afternoon and a Brandy Mannhatten (or two) before dinner, and I’ll be Mr. Mellow until the day closes down with a couple shots of peppermint late in the evening. I know, that sounds like I wander through the evening in a fog of drunken senselessness, but with a judicious intake of solid food along the way, I usually manage to stay mostly upright and cognizant of the world around me. This is vacation time, isn’t it? So a little stupor is acceptable, even desirable……..

Thursday morning and the boss has decided that we've had enough rest and relaxation and that it is time to rejoin the real world. So after my second cup of coffee, but before I could settle in with a book or magazine for the remainder of the morning, I became the designated teamster, schlepping all our worldly possessions from cottage to van. Amazing all the stuff we feel necessary to take with us from home to cottage and back again. The van neatly loaded, the dog harnessed in her seat and the cat curled into her favorite hiding place beneath the back seat, we left the cottage for a leisurely ride home. The day started out with a low sky that was getting denser with moisture, so leaving was probably a good idea.

One of the other reasons for returning home today was that our neighbors next door were having a holiday open house this evening and we wanted to join in the festivities. They have been our neighbors for just the past four years and this is the first time that we've actually socialized without having to lean on the fence between our backyards. They are very nice people and quite gregarious, with a lot of friends always coming and going. So we were quite pleased to have the opportunity to become part of the gang.

We had a good time meeting lots of people that we will probably not see again until next year's open house. Situations like that are usually stressful for Mary, but I love meeting new people and asking them about themselves. They always consider me a brilliant conversationalist, when in fact all I do is ask a few leading questions and then stand back and let the torrent of words wash over me. An occcasional nod and an earnest "hmm, hmm," keeps my reputation for brilliant repartee intact. We shuffled from one group to another, nibbling from the endless platters of fun food, comfort food, forbidden food, and once-a-year food that covered every available surface. Had we stayed much longer, my new year's resolution would have to be to lose 40 pounds or invest in a new wardrobe. So after an hour and a half of socializing and nibbling, we made our graceful departure, while still able to walk and not roll, glad to have made the effort to be there.

As Christmas week winds down, we sit here in our home thankful for the friends and family that make weeks like this so special. While we see all these same people throughout the year, there is something about the week between Christmas and the New Year celebration that intensifies the feelings we have for those people in our lives. Hope you have the same kind of week that we are having and that the people special in your lives are there to share it with you.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas hope

We had the pleasant experience yesterday of meeting some new friends and enjoying the company of old friends at a Christmas party/engagemant party for our son Jonathan's good friend Dominic and his fiance, Marie, at Dominic's mother's home. Dominic and Jon have been friends since they were 5 years old. Now that they are both 25, their friendship is deeply embedded in our families.

The party was notable for several reasons--the chance to meet Marie's parents, the opportunity to reconnect with people we haven't seen for a long time, and the chance to put faces to the names of Jon's and Dominic's friends we hadn't met before. But the best feeling I took away from that gathering was the notion that our future as a society is in good and capable hands.

As I wandered around the party, observing quietly at times, and joining in some spirited conversation at other times, I was struck by the enormous potential the next generation has. At one point four of the young men at the party were clustered comfortably in a corner of the kitchen, quietly discussing something that held all their attention. I don't know what the topic was--I stayed away so as not to intrude--but I was entranced at the brain power assembled. In that group there was a Doctor, a CPA, a Physicist, and an Actuary, all young men of 25 years, still working toward realizing their potential despite their already heady accomplishments. The number of college degrees and advanced degrees earned just in that small group would have made any graduating class proud. At that moment I felt much more optimistic about the future of our society seeing the cluster of representatives that will be taking over for us.

What better Christmas present could any of us hope for? Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

driving to recovery

We went today to pick up our new car. Naturally it was raining and Mary didn't want to pick up a nice shiny clean vriginal car in a rainstorm. She apparently forgets that the car will eventually be driven in all manner of weather and will suffer the indignities of all cars that actually get used. Saner heads (mine) prevailed in the end.

We arrived at the Honda dealer in a driving rain and, trying to squeeze berween the raindrops, scampered into the building. We were greeted by the salesman who sold us the vehicle. He had come in to work today specifically to be there for us when we came to get the car, even though today was his day off. We thought that was a nice gesture on his part. We had actually enjoyed working with him the other day, so seeing him again was a pleasant surprise. Luckily we did not encounter Frank, the Sales Manager, I described with some not-so-nice, but oh-so-true, observations in Wednesday's post, so the day was already a qualified success. Gary, our salesman, had gotten the ball rolling, getting all the paperwork, license plates, and all the other paraphenalia associated with new car buying, in order. Still it took nearly an hour to sign a few papers and look the car over before we were able to take it home.

My question through all this is why does it take so long to buy a car? Why is it so damned complicated? Why can't you just go in to the dealership, point at a car, and say, " I'll take that one, here's my check, thank you, goodbye." It doesn't really need to be more stressful than walking into the butcher shop, pointing at a choice steak and saying, "I'll take that one, here's my check, thank you, goodbye." But, somewhere along the way, a series of traditions has been put into play that requires a lot of dancing around between buyer and seller. A lot of wasted time results. Having gone through this song and dance a few times now, I still haven't found the way to cut the process short and avoid all the wasted energy. Even having Mary's intimidating presence doesn't seem to help. Her negotiating skills seem to have little effect on the getting-out-the-door process.

We did eventually manage to escape in the new Accord, having bought our way out with an exorbitant amount of money. The rain abated just long enough for the drive home. I had the privilege of taking the first drive in the car--Mary was reluctant to drive it in case the rain started again, so she drove my truck home while I luxuriated in the new car smell. I made sure to touch every knob, button, and handle in the car so I could claim to have been its first. (I don't get too many virgins of any kind at this stage of my life, so I'll take advantage of any obvious opportunity). That will most likely be the last time I get to drive it, since it is essentially Mary's car and she is notoriously protective of her vehicles.

Her new baby is now safely bedded down in the garage. It might not see daylight again until Spring, and then only on sunny days. Mary will shanghai my truck on days that look even a little questionable as far as the weather goes--which, in Wisconsin, is to say everyday except the third Tuesday of months ending in the letter X. She will drive my truck to work, leaving me stranded with instructions to stay away from the still shiny (but less virginal) machine in the garage. But I'm ok with that. If it makes her happy, then I get to be happy too. Still, I might just sneak out to pat it on the rearend once in awhile just to let it know that I know it's still there, and that someday we will get much better acquainted.

With the new car to replace the accident wrecked one, we have taken one more step on the road to recovery. Hopefully there will be few more steps to take. We're getting there.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Twas the Day Before Christmas

This is a reprise of last year's Christmas story. Hope you like it. And Merry Christmas, everyone.

Twas the day before Xmas, when all through the mall
the shoppers were hustling, heeding the call
of sale upon sale by merchants galore,
who were trying to entice them into the store.
Last minute shoppers were desperate to buy
anything merchants still had in supply.
Finding a parking place a half mile away
we forged ahead eagerly and dove into the fray.
“You go to that end and I’ll start right here,”
I shouted our plan with bogus good cheer.
“We’ll cover all stores and little by little,
having shopped till we dropped, we’ll meet in the middle.
So my wife trotted off both brazen and bold,
her gucci filled with plastic, both platinum and gold.
My own pockets bulged with my own set of cards,
which the companies sent with kindest regards,
my charging to the limit their insidious goal
so eventually they’’d own me body and soul.
I checked over my list, so I’d know where to begin,
but its length just added increasing chagrin.
On it were family and friends, both far and near,
all of them worthy at this time of year.
I’ll have a gift for each before my shopping ceases,
something for all aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces.
There will be a cell phone for Suzy, an xbox for Jim
and an ipod sized right for wee Tiny Tim.
Liz gets a sweater, and a skirt nicely pressed.
If she wears them together she’ll be fully dressed.
A knit hat and scarf for my cousin Paul,
new sneakers for Tom, and still that’s not all.
For Lynn a neat dolly that cries and wets,
and Ralph gets new poker chips for when he bets.
A bottle of brandy for old uncle Fred,
for Aunt Sophie a...oops, cross her off, she’s dead.
Grandma will get that nice warm stitched quilt.
A new Barbie for Ashley (wow, is she built).
For Carrie I’m stumped, dont’ know what to do,
maybe some cash for another tatoo.
I know just what Jerry would like,
a specially pimped out red mountain bike.
A new calculator for Jon on which he relies
to sort out the figures that dance in his eyes.
For Katie I stopped in an import store
and got something Asian I know she’ll adore.
Some earrings for Mary would be about right,
or a necklace with diamonds, ooh I just might
max out the Visa if I buy so much bling,
but there’s still MC, Discover, and Amex to fling.
By the time I exhausted the names on my list
I had just enough credit left, so I couldn’t resist
that special last gift from me to me,
a giant screen hd plasma tv.
As I finished covering my end of the mall
I spotted my wife and gave her a call.
But she sat simply staring and at once I saw
that her nerves were all frazzled, stretched thin and raw.
This last minute shopping had taken its toll
and though we went forth and achieved our goal,
it was like a descent into Dante’s hells,
accompanied by a raucous rendition of Jingle Bells.
We gathered our boxes and bags of gifts
and joined the exodus of the other spendthrifts.
We passed Santa’s castle where he sat on his throne
ho hoing to kids in groups and alone.
A bit further on we saw him once more,
enticing the unwary into a store.
He must have been cloned, so buyer beware,
Jolly St. Nick, the guy’s everywhere.
Again on the left with a pudgy hand wave
and a wink of his eye I swear that he gave
a mocking salute to our supposed Xmas spirit.
We hurried along, did not want to hear it.
I thought as I passed I heard him retort,
“See you all next month in bankrupcty court.”
We found our way out and as we passed through the door,
he was there again assailing us once more.
With his right hand a bell he was ringing,
the sound melding well with the carolers singing.
Rotund and bedecked in his red and white suit
with misty eyes and wry smile he noticed our loot.
His gesture was subtle as he blinked at his pot,
all red it stood empty, no coins in the slot.
Guilt overcame me as I set down my load,
my wife doing the same without being told.
We both started fumbling in pocket and purse,
overcome by the plastic credit card curse.
No cash could be found after all we had spent,
neither of us found a single red cent.
Mumbling apologies we slithered away,
there really was nothing we could possibly say.
We loaded the Volvo, filled it up tight
all the while feeling that something’s not right.
We nearly made it out of the lot
when we both noticed it in a new spot.
Someone installed a brand new machine,
that dispenses new bills, all crisp and green.
We jumped from the car, this wouldn’t be hard.
Thank God we still had our ATM card.
We maxed the card out and collected the cash,
scurried back to the car and made a mad dash
back to where Santa stood ringing his bell.
By the twinkle in his eye we knew he could tell
that we returned from the end of the lot
to stuff all our cash into his pot.
We drove away happy, but when we got back around
that new ATM was nowhere to be found.
As we passed by the spot where we knew it should be,
only new fallen snow was all we could see.
But we both swear that as we drove passed the sight
we heard Santa shout, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Look out, Slick

Shopping for a new car to replace the recently wrecked one is turning into a tedious, and mostly disagreeable, exercise.
We have gone out on several occasions over the past week to see what is out there. We have done our due diligence, researching the various cars we were interested in. I spent a couple hours on the net just this morning doing some comparison shopping and checking safety features of new cars. Safety features have taken a front row seat in our arena of concerns since our unfortunate accident experience.

Yesterday we went so far as to inquire on the bottom line on a car we thought would suit our needs. The salesman we encountered was not cut from the usual salesman cloth, e.g. he refrained from the usual jargon that makes you want to slap him upside the head to get him to speak English. He was surprisingly human. The fun began when he had to get the Sales Manager, the guy who actually MAKES THE DEAL, involved.

Now I don't know about you, but every Sales Manager I have ever encountered in a car dealership has graduated from the same School of Sleaze, having majored in Doubletalk. Flashing the golf ball sized diamond pinky ring and shooting the cuffs of their subtle plaid shiney sportcoat, they are immediately, after a too hardy and knuckle busting handshake, your best friend in the world and have only your best interests at heart. They really and truly want to GIVE you the car of your dreams, but the damn owner of the franchise insists that he charge you at least something for the car. And why is it that they all have either a Southern good ol' boy accent, or a mob influenced Jersey, fogettaboudit, demeanor that makes you think that their brother, Guido, is hiding behind the door ready to kneecap you with a baseball bat if you don't like the deal he's giving you?

Perhaps I'm stereotyping, but you just have to laugh when you encounter these guys. I have to suppress a smile of anticipation whenever I see Slick approaching. Mary has an excellent bullshit detection meter that makes her want to puke on the guy's patent leather loafers whenever she meets one of them. Consequently, she shows no mercy when dealing with them. Yes, she is the wheeler-dealer in the family. I like to just sit back and watch the show unfold as these slicksters whither under her English teacher authoritarian deameanor. You can almost feel their cojones shrink and withddraw as soon as they learn she is an English teacher. They become amazingly humble and respectful, as though they know that they are getting graded once again and know they forgot to study for this exam. There are a lot of "yes maams" and "no maams" floating around the dealership when she gets to dealing. It's as though they want to do anything, and do it quickly, to make her happy and get her out of the building without any more damage to their sensitive egos.

And so, even though the search for a new car can be, and usually is, an execise in frustration and tedium, it does have its entertainment value as well. I'm thinking of hiring Mary out as a new car buyer for those who don't want to have to deal with Slick or Guido. We might be on to a whole new career for her when she retires from teaching. I'm counting the money already.

Monday, December 18, 2006

connecting

I just got back in the house this morning after another physical therapy session when the phone rang. Most often I let it ring without answering, allowing the answering machine to take the call. But this time I picked it up and was rewarded nicely for doing so.

The call was from an old friend that I knew from my days as a remodeling contractor. He is an electrician that I would use whenever the job I was working on required and electrician. It's not that we ever socialized away from the job, but we always got along well whenever we worked together. Naturally now that I am retired, our working encounters have stopped. But he is the kind of guy who genuinely cares about people, so it is not unusual for him to reach out and reconnect with someone from his past.

He explained that he was going through his old rolodex and found my name and number there, and curious about how I was getting along, picked up the phone and called me. He knew that I retired because of Parkinsons Disease and wanted to know how I was doing. We talked for ten minutes or so about his hectic work schedule and about the things I am involved in now.
He just wanted to let me know that he had thought of me. That he was willing to carry that thought to the telephone and follow up on it is the amazing thing.

How often do we think of people we've known and liked in the past and thought about calling, but never get around to that for whatever reason? We all have friends and acquantinces from our past that we wonder about. But taking the time and making the effort to reconnect just seems to be too much to ask. So we go on wondering instead of following up on that wonder.

It was just about a month ago that I received a similar phone call. My old boss from a job I had over 20 years ago, before I started my own business, called out of the blue just to say hello. No particular reason, just the impulse to reconnect. I was obviously surprised and delighted to hear from him. His call made my day.

And today my day was made again by an old friend who took the time and made the effort to call just to say hello.

You know you've been intending to call that old friend you've lost touch with. Do it. Do it now. It will mean the world to your friend and I'm sure it will make you feel pretty good too.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

old friends

We got together with three other couples on Saturday for one of our periodic lunches. They are all friends and neighbors from the lake and we have these get-togethers several times during the winter months when we don't see each other at the lake. We all live in differrent cities, so we have found a convenient restaurant that is a nearly equal distance for all of us to travel to.

The conversation is always somewhat predictable, given the personalities present. You can usually predict what each person will talk about if given the chance to lead the conversation and what the various opinions will be on any given subject. Needless to say, we avoid touchy subjects like politics and religion in casual conversation, having learned where we all stand on those subjects at different times and conversations in the past. While we have somewhat divergent opinions and attitudes about those important subjects, it is comforting to know that whatever differences we have are set aside in the interest of continueing friendship. Since we are all hovering around the 60 year old benchmark, some well past and some rapidly approaching, we share a lot of common life experiences that help to bind us together.

As with all familiar groups of people we all play our roles as written in our shared past experience. One couple is the glue that holds us all together, being the couple that instigated our meeting of each other at various times over the past ten years or so. They are gregarioius and outgoing people who genuinely enjoy the company of whomever they are with. They have a wide range of friends besides us, but always make us feel as though we are the most important people they know. We can always count on one of them to start the conversation by asking us about ourselves. And they are genuinely interested in hearing te answer.

Another couple in the group I think of as being Pollyanna and her Sugar Daddy. He is a semi-retired environmental analyst who once worked for a government agency and she is a kept woman who has never known what it is like to do without. You can always expect to see pictures, lots of pictures, of their latest travels. This time it was three roles of film taken in Rome (when you've seen one picture of the Vatican, you've seen them all). And when she isn't talking about Rome or London or their Mediteranian cruise, she is expounding on her wonderful and perfect grandchildren. While she is talking, he just sits and nods and smiles and pretends to hear what is going on. He is hard of hearing and I consider that a blessing, as I'm sure he does, but won't admit. Needless to say, we try not to ask her what's new, but somehow she always gets her latest news admitted into evidence.

The third couple of our group always presents a surprise. We never quite know what to expect of him--willl he be talkative or quiet, argumentative or congenial, interested or remote? Will she join in the conversation without being coaxed or sit quietly and seemingly unattached to the group? Theirs is a relatioinship where he dominates all conversations and she willing allows him to take center stage. She is really quite intelligent and funny and interesting when we can get her engaged. He loves to talk aboiut his car collection--he restores old cars--and will go into exquisite detail about the mechanics and upholstery and paint finish on his latest restorations. He even brought along a paint chip to show us the color and depth of the finish he just put on his old Thunderbird (although it is difficult to extrapolate from a one inch square paint chip how the entire car looks). He is a retired engineer and we love to play to his intellectual conceit by asking for his opinion and explanation of the workings of anything and everything, which he gives with an air of definitive finality.

The fourth couple of the group is, of course, Mary and me. Naturally we are perfect and require no inspection or dissection.
Actually, Mary can be the life of the party when she decides to be. She is a wonderful story teller and has a self-deprecating sense of humor that puts everyone at ease. She has a great way of getting everyone involved, being sensitive to everyone's feelings, and making sure that all are included in the group. Must be the teacher in her. Me? I'm the observer of all the others. I speak when spoken to, but otherwise keep my mouth shut so I don't get into trouble. Unless we're talking about sports. Then I'm right there leading the charge. I hate talking about myself and will try to deflect the conversation onto any area other than me, but will expound at length on any subject if given the opportunity. Bobology often results.

Given the range of personalities in the group, it's a wonder how we all get along and actually look forward to seeing each other at these luncheons. It seems that this is an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Separately, not all of the couples would be as close, although couple number one, the glue, we consider to be our closest friends. The group dynamics at work here make for an interesting study. Take any one couple out of the mix and the whole dynamic changes, the whole exercise becomes focused differently. If we were to add another couple to the group no telling how we would react. As it is, our little group is just the right size for intimate conversations, yet large enough to keep the broader talk interesting and wide ranging.

I suppose trying to analyze a group of friends to better understand how the group interacts puts an unnecessary burden on the relationship. It is probably better to just accept what is, and enjoy the time we spend together. But I guess that the human condition dictates that we search for answers and meaning in everything we do. Sometimes, however, a lunch is just a lunch, a friend is just a friend, and a group of friends is just a mob under control.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

sculpture

As promised yesterday, here are some pictures of the most recent sculpture to come out of the workshop. The entire piece would fit inside a ten inch cube, to give you a sense of scale. It is called PUZZLE.


The wood is Maple with a Walnut ply between laminations to give the dark stripe.


This is one piece that I would llike to see on a monumental scale that would invite you to crawl around on it.


The wood colors are all natural, no stains. The finish is hand rubbed oil, 6 coats.


It will be a few weeks now I think before the vase series I mentioned yesterday will be ready. I have started another sculpture at the same time, so my attention is divided. That simply delays the completion of everything, but I can't help myself. I promise to try real hard to behave myself and stay on task.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

from the workshop/studio

Here's a little something that I recently finished. It's a vase made up up of various pieces of wood scraps in the shop left over from different projects.


Each side of the vase is different.


The piece is small, standing only about 6" high by 4" on one side and 5" on the other.


The woods used are Oak, Pine, Maple, and Redwood in various sizes, laminated into a solid block from which the finished piece emerged.


The colors are all natural, no stains were used. The finish is hand rubbed oil, 6 coats.

This the first in a series of vases that I have planned as a way to use all those scraps lying around the shop. I can't bear to throw anything away, so you can imagine the mounds of leftover materials I have to work with. If I were to use those scraps for vases until they were all gone, I would probably have thousand finished pieces. Obviously that isn't going to happen, but I will have at least three more vases in the series. Those three are already started and in various stages of completion. I will post them here when they are ready.

In the meantime, look for pictures tomorrow of a sculpture I just finished. And there is another cane nearly completed to add to that collection that I'm just about ready to share with you. I'm not just about vases, you know.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

update

Since our accident last Saturday it seems that everything we have done for three days relates to that accident. We contacted an attorney, saw our family doctor, and talked on the phone constantly.

Mary was hurt more than I and I feel terrible about that. The airbag struck her face and smashed her glasses against her face leaving an impression around her eyes that turned many shades of awful and cut her cheekbones and brows. Our doctor feels that she probably suffered a mild concussion which would aaccount for her headaches. The opthomologist that she saw today to check her eyes, which were blurring a bit and hurting, assured her that she did not suffer a detached retina and that the discomfort was caused by swelling. He gave her some eyedrops which helped immediately. He said that the fact that she was wearing glasses most l ikely saved her from more serious eye injury from rhe airbag. Our famiy doctor has forbidden her to return to work until next week because of the concusssion. She needs to rest more than anything. But getting her to actually just sit down and do nothing but relax is impossible.

My aches and pains surfaced the next day after the adrenaline dissipated. Now my back and neck hurt, but nothing that a bit of physical therapy and fistsful of Advil won't take care of. I feel like I was used as a punching bag. It's funny how at the time of the accident I felt ok physically except for the extreme shaking response to shock. But apparently I was so tense while trying to gain control of myself that I essentially sprained and strained those muscles. Now I'm paying for that.

We went today to the towing company's storage lot to take pictures of the wreck and to empty the car of all our stuff. You know the stuff that accumulates in the trunk and the various compartments in the car: blankets and stadium seats for football games in the trunk, maps and papers and notes and coins and umbrellas and snow scrapers and any number of other treasures scattered around. We filled a couple shopping bags with stuff. And we are fairly neat people without a lot of extraneous stuff generally littered around our lives. It was kind of embarrassing how much detritus we had.

And yes, it was somewhat diffucult to see the smashed car. The sad part is that the interior was perfectly spotless and clean. Sitting in it you could almost imagine starting it up and driving away. But one look at the front end and you knew that car was not going anywhere again under its own power. Damn, I really liked that car, too. What a waste.

Thank you all who took the time to leave a comment and some kind words of encouragement here. That means a lot and I am grateful for your concern. It's nice to know that there are friends out there that, even though we have never met except here in the blog world, care about us and wish us well.

Now all we can do is wait for the attorney to hash it out with the insurance companies. It's all in his hands so that we don't have to deal with the details and hassles of settling the claims. Hopefully it will all be taken care of without too much trouble and we can put this nasty episode behind us. I won't mention it again.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

not the way we wanted to spend our day

Several times a year we like to get together with our friends, Stu and Mary, half way between our homes, a thirty mile ride for eacb of us. Today was one of those days. Unfortunately, we never made it to our lunch.

The roads to the little town we meet in are the two lane county road type. Nothing particularly hazardess about them other than the occasional stop sign at a crossroad. It was at one of those crossroads that our lunch plans changed. I was driving, Mary in the passenger seat, heading east as we approached the intersection. We had the right of way with no stop sign. The driver heading north stopped at her stop sign, but didn'r bother to look both ways as they teach you from the first day you can understand the concept of "both ways. " She pulled out right in front of us. I slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. We smashed into her rear panel, swung her around and deposited her in the ditch on the north side of the intersection. The damage to her car was minimal. The damage to our car was total. The whole front end of our Solara was destroyed. The car is a total loss. Airbags and seatbelts saved our lives. Thankfully we were only moving about 30-35 mph when it happened. Still, at that speed the damage is remarkable. Mary suffered some facial cuts when the airback hit and broke her glasses. I was unscathed, but the shock of the accident triggered a severe Parkinsons response with left me tembling so severely that I could barely function. The emergency response was quick and thorough. Both Mary and I were ambulanced to the nearest hospital to be checked over and declared among the living. It took a couple hours of sedative dripping into my arm in the emergency room to get me to stop shaking enough to be released. Son Jonathan was there to get us home, bless his heaart.

We sit here at home now wondering what happens next, licking our wounds both physical and emotional. At some point I expect an aftershock to hit when we finally realize that we might have been severely injured or even killed. That'll make you think..........

Thursday, December 07, 2006

let there be light

The quest for light was arduous and cold. I was determined to return the twinkling lights of Christmas to their former brilliance. If that meant having to slog through the piles of drifted snow, tracing the wires from one end to the other, then that was what I was set on doing. No sacrifice was too great if I was to restore the holiday spirit extinguished along with my lights.

I fortified myself with layers of insulation to combat what I knew would be an unrelenting enemy arrayed to prevent my success. Long underwear, turtle neck sweater, down filled jacket, boots that rose to mid calf, and two layers of gloves to keep my fingers from the numbing cold. I set out into a wind that mocked my feeble mortality, promising to make my efforts as painful as possible. But I had the spirit of Christmas as my companion, so I was undaunted by the elements.

I pushed my way through the plowed up pile of windblown snow alongside the driveway so that I could reach the first of several electical cord junctions hidden in the bushes. My trusty shovel cleared away the worst of the pile, enabling me to keep the snow from creeping inside the top of my boots. I found the first set of light plugs where I expected to find them and discovered that all was fine. The plugs were all secure and dry. So I had to continue on around the house to the front, where the next set of cords terminated in a nest of plugs under the bushes up against the house. The swirling wind bit my face. My eyes watered from the cold, I was beginning to feel the first signs of numbing fingers in my inadeqaute gloves. Somehow some of the snow had found its way down the top of my boots. Cold feet and cold fingers were battling for my attention. But I was on a mission that would not be slowed by mere discomfort.

At the front of the house, the bushes that held the lights appear to present a solid mass of foliage, but in reality there is an empty space below and behind them that is reachable at most times of the year by scampering on hands and knees. But in this case the wind had blown the access to the back of the bushes shut tight with a mound of snow. I had no choice but to tunnel my way through the drifted obstacle like some crazed critter intent on finding shelter from the storm. Indeed, I fully expected to be confronted by a host of hunkered down rabbits, who had found the space congenial and the wires I sought to be delicious when nibbled. Instead what I found was no sign of any animal life and the wires unmolested and functioning as intended. All I got for my tunnelling effort was snow down my collar to add to my already high level of discomfort. Still, I was not ready to end my quest. I soldiered on to the front porch, where another grouping of electrical cords ended in a cluster of mated outlets and plugs.

Again I found, after stumbling and clawing my way through the icy drifts and slipping on the hidden steps, that the lights were intact and the cords all safely joined. I was beginning to wonder if my valiant search would be successful. The cold wind slapping my face and spanking my snow covered butt was causing me to doubt my ability to continue. But I had made it this far and, with any kind of luck, I would find the problem in the next stand of bushes that taunted me twenty feet of foot high snow away.

As I slogged my way toward those bushes, shovel flying from side to side in an effort to both clear the way and to keep me warm, I noticed a beaten down path of suspicious footprints heading into those same bushes from the other direction. Those footprints were decidedly unhuman, having four pawprints at each jumping point. I was sure I had found the reason that the lights of Christmas had been extinguished. The path I saw was surely made by one of those itinerant bandit racoons that steal their way through the neighborhood, looking for targets of opportunity and the chance to wreack mayhem on the unsuspecting. I dove into the bushes with a vengenace, hoping to surprise the villain in the act of gnawing his way through my extension cord. I wielded my shovel as a battle ax, hoping to render a fatal blow to the miscreant that had caused me so much touble and pain. But, alas, my vengeance went unrequited, my bloodlust unsatisfied. No bandit was to be found. The only evidence that he had even stopped for a moment as he passed through was the neat pile of scat that I managed to get stuck to my boots as I plunged headlong into the fray. Again the cords and lights were unmolested and just as I had left them arranged.

Disheartened, dismayed, and dumbfounded, I desparately struggled to drag my nearly frozen body back to the shelter and warmth of my home. In my foray into that inhospitable landscape of frozen tundra, I had come up empty and defeated. I was no nearer a solution to the turned out lights than I was before I donned my fleecy armor and dove into the snowdrifts. A disgruntled sigh, no, actually a moan, stole past my frozen lips as the wind bit again into my numbed face. The tears of disappointment froze on my cheeks as I pushed my way back into the house, trying to brush away the snow on my jacket and pants as a way of brushing away my failure. Yes, I had failed. The Grinch had won. There woud be no more twinkling lights to enliven our Christmas spirit. I was a failure........

Then again, maybe I made the whole thing up. What I actually did was what any non-brain dead reasonably intelligent person would do. I checked each of the three extension cords and the lights that attached to them by disconnecting them from the timer and plugging them in indivdually to see which one might be the cause of the failure. When all three responded with burning lights, logic told me that the problem lay with the timer. I tested the timer by plugging the cords into it again and turning it on. When it made whining noise and the lights went out, I didn't need any further convincing that I had found the problem. My mama didn't raise no fools. Solution? Plug the cords into a different power strip. Problem solved. Took all of ten minutes. Didn't even have to put my gloves on. Only now I have to go outside to turn the lights on and off maually each day. No more timer. But I dont think the three steps outside to the power strip are going to cause me more than a moments regret.

Still, it could have happened the other way.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

oh shit

I was afraid this would happen. I tried to arrange everything so that the possibilities that this would happen were minimized. I was careful to cover all the plugs to keep moisture out. I raised the cords wherever possible to get them out of reach of curious critters. But last night all those precautions proved inadequate. My Christmas lights outside went out.

I was sitting here at my desk about 4:45 yesterday, surfing through my blogroll, reading your blog posts, when just outside the window to my left the lights went out. While I wasn't looking directly out the window when it happened, I experienced that sudden feeling that something had just changed, and not for the better. It took me a moment to realize that it was too dark outside, that the lights on the bushes that shhould have been twinkling through the snow were not twinkling. A quick tour through the house to look out the windows confirmed my worst fear: the Prince of Darkness had struck. No more Christmas lights anywhere.

Normally this wouldn't cause quite the consternation I was experiencing, since all that is required to fix the problem is to trace down the electical cords to find any breech and then check all the connections to insure that they are all intact. I had arranged everything when I installed the lights to make it as easy as possible to maintain if something like this happened. That precautionary foresight, however, did not anticipate a foot of snow covering everything. All the cords and connections are buried under a secure thick white blanket that will make the supposedly simple task of finding the fault a major undertaking involving shovels and boots full of cold snow.

Luckily for me, the weather today is somewhat mild, the temps in the low thirties, so I probably won't lose any fingers or toes to frostbite. Unluckily for me, I still have to venture out into that snowy landscape to correct the problem. I could just say the hell with it, ignore the lack of light and holiday cheer, let it stay dark,and chalk it up to fate, but I don't want to give in quite that easily.

I worked hard to make this place look special for the holidays and especially for Mary, so I have to make the effort to get it all up and functioning again. So I am about to don my snowsuit and venture out into the wild to see if I can make it all better. If you don't hear from in a few days, send out a search party. Make sure they have a sufficient supply of brandy.........

Monday, December 04, 2006

my new look

Surprise! Yes, you've come to the right place. It just looks different. My blog's new "skin" (that's apparently the official technical jargon for "design"), was done for me by se7en at Blogs Gone Wild. He did a great job and was a pleasure to work with. I'm pleased, hope you are too.

The picture I asked him to use is one of my favorites that I took at the lake last summer. It just always reminds me of the good feelings I have whenever I'm there. We can all use a reminder of the good things once in awhile.

The title of my blog, for those of you who have not gone far enough back in the archives to discover its meaning, is a term my two children and wife use whenever they catch me expounding on anything. When the kids were young and much more impressionable, I would answer their questions with extensive elaboration and significant detail. It didn't matter if what I said was true or false or if I even knew the right answer. If I didn't know the correct answer, I was not above making something up that sounded plausible. I figure you can make anyone believe anything if you say it with enough conviction and overwhelming detail. Eventually they caught on to my bombastic ways and would shout "bobology" whenever they suspected I was leading them down a meandering path, to eventually arrive at destination, not necessarily the one we set out for. Now I have only to open my mouth or clear my throat before the bobology chorus erupts, effectively stifling my homilies and lectures. I get no respect.

So anyway, despite the title, I will endevour to keep the bobology to a minimum, since I'm sure that anyone taking the time to read this has a buit-in bs meter. But forgive me if I occasionally lapse into my habit of shoveling it into a deepening pile. Just where your boots.

Friday, December 01, 2006

hammered

We got hammered by that nasty winter storm that moved through the entire midwest last night and today. Worst storm we've had since 1997. I haven't heard officially what the total accumulation is, but unoffficially it's a shitload.

I just came in from clearing a path from the back door out into the yard so that our little dog could get out there and do her thing. The snow was deep enough that she disappeared when I let her out earlier and that freaked her out. Think about it, would you want to go outside and squat in snow deep enough to freeze your tookis off. I think not.

Amazingly enough we got our mail today, even though every other business and school in this area was closed. Why is it that on normal days we sometimes get erratic service from the post office, but on the worst day of the year the mailman somehow manages to do his job on time? Maybe there is something to that "neither rain, nor sleet, etc.....

Schools being closed throughout this part of the state, Mary is home for the day, getting a respite from the delinquents she is subjected to every other day. Today she is subjected to me instead. I'm trying to be good, but it's difficult having her around all day when I am used to the freedom that comes from being home alone everyday. I even had to eat lunch with her and that cut into my reading time. I see retirement foreshadowed here and it ain't pretty.

She did manage to get hold of a snow plower to clear the driveway so that I wouildn't have to do it all with the snowblower. We have about 300 feet of driveway and a large garage approach area that we share with our neighbor. In years past, I always took care of shoveling and blowing the driveway clear since our neighbor is handicapped and is unable to do any of it himself. But I'm at the stage now where it is too much for me too, so we have to contraact with someone do do the job. Life goes on.

I did keep Mary somewhat content by putting up the Christmas tree this morning and getting it lit up. Actually it was the perfect day for it what with the snow howling outside making it a white Christmas. We even had some Christmas music playing for awhile. The white Christmas thing has its drawback however. All those outside lights I did last week are now buried under ten inches of snow and invisible for the time being. I don't think I am quite up to going out there and cleaning te snow off the bushes. Hope for some sunshine and a little thawing so the lights become visible again.

I'm headed for a brief nap now so that I can store up a bit more energy to go out once more and maybe clear the sidewalks yet tonight. The snow has stopped falling and the winds have abated somewhat, so I have no excuse for not doing a little more of the snow removal. The snowplow can't do the sidewalks so I am not totally out of a job just yet. Damn.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

who's to blame?

Over the past few days there has been a story in the local news about a grade school student, a girl in the seventh grade I think, who was nearly choked by her teacher in response to the student's misbehavior. On the surface it is a reprehensible action by the teacher. There can really be no justification for his actions. But having said that, I can understand how he came to that point and why he nearly throttled that student.

I would be willing to bet that the girl in question is an habitual disruptive force in school. I would be willing to bet that she has been a continual source of rude, obnoxious, and loud behavior from day one. I would also be willing to bet that her parents, or most likely single parent, are uninvolved in her education. And I would be willing to bet that she is not the only one in her class to exhibit such behavior, but is probably the ringleader of a group of similar students.

In that kind of school environment, the teacher becomes less a teacher and more of a referee, more of a cop, more of a disciplinarian than a teacher. Very little learning can go on in that kind of classroom. The teacher, over time, becomes frustrated with his role and walks a thin line between a controlled environment and mayhem. And the more the students are allowed to get away with, the more they push the boundaries of behavior. Respect for others and self respect are nowhere to be found.

Confronted with that kind of scene day after day has to be exceptionally wearing on a teacher. That more of them don't snap as this teacher did, is miraculous. Yet in this story the girl is coming off as mildly naughty, not the brat she most likely really is. The teacher is the villain, the student just a poor miunderstood child. I want to know what her record of behavior is over the past months of the school year before I will be ready to condemn the teacher and feel sorry for the girl.

That students at all grade levels today are more disrespectful of each other and their teachers seems to be the accepted norm. The news is filled with scary stories of rampaging teenagers wielding firearms and other weapons, intent on causing harm to anyone who might have looked at them the wrong way. The escalating violence we see is a logical result of the uncontrolled behavior that starts in grade schools. That our children are bombarded with violent images on television and in video games has to have some influence on their actions. And the lack of parental control in many instances is a glaring red flag indicating the likelyhood of trouble down the road.

My wife has been a high school English teacher for more than thirty years, and I know she is having an increasingly diffucult time dealing with today's students. In the past she would never come home and complain about her students the way she does every day now. And she is not just complaining about disruptive behavior in class, but an overall rudeness and disrespect she feels is too common today. So many of her students feel they are entitled to better grades than they get for their work. They complain more and more that their teachers don't "give" them the grades they want without realiziing that teachers don't "give" grades, students must earn them. They seem more and more to react with a barely controlled fury underlying their complaints. It has been only recently that I worry about her going to school and being physically and violently confronted by some out of control idiot who wanted an A but only earned a C. Her retirement from teaching can't come soon enough.

What does this decline in civility and respect bode for our future society? I don't have that answer. There have been several stories just recently about teachers who have been physically attacked by students, so I will not be surprised when, on the news one day, we hear about a teacher who has successfully choked a student. I fear we are too close to that happening. And the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the students.

Monday, November 27, 2006

tis the season

I don't quite know what possessed me to do this, since in the past I have been a card carrying member of the Bah Humbug Club of holiday cheer, but I did it. The fact that last week the weather was unusually mild and inviting, and the fact that I had a few extra bucks in my pocket to pay for it, and wanting to do something to lighten and brighten Mary's mood must have all conspired to find in me a whole new Christmas spirit.

I spent two days last week on this without Mary knowing about it. I wanted to surprise her. So on Wednesday last week, I called her at school and told her she couldn't come home until 5:00 when it was dark. She blithered and blathered and tried to start a fight saying she was tired and ready for a vacation (it was the day before Thanksgiving) and didn't want to put up with any of my nonsense. But she finally agreed, allowing me my minor triumph. I'm sure she had an inkling of what I was up to, but certainly didn't guess the extent of my decorating zeal. She did, however, call both kids to tell them I was acting strangely, or at least more strangely than usual, and was thinking of having me committed. That prompted Jon to call me to make sure I hadn't gone off the deep end into the abyss and was really not being too weird. I reassured him that I was just planning a little surprise for his mother. I was sure to emphasize that it wa a good surprise and that he need not worry.

So when Mary arrived home (and as typical for her, she came home late, not at 5:00 as I told her, but closer to 6:00, so of course I was pacing nervously for that extra hour before my surprise for her was discovered) I expected an especially warm and fuzzy greeting. I was not disapointed. She was thrilled . I gained a whole wagon load of domestic points that day. I may even be close to breaking even now.

These pictures are of the old homestead lighted up for the holiday season. I may even get to liking this Christmas stuff.


Friday

(I wrote this on my laptop while at the cottage, but was unable to post it since we have no internet connectioin there. Better late than never.)

Here it us the day after Thanksgiving. This is the first time I have ever heard this day referred it as Black Friday. Is that something new? Why is it called that? What is the derivation of the term? Why haven’t I ever heard that before? Have I just not been paying attention? Am I that out of touch? This is really bothering me.

Thanksgiving day was the usual. I spent the afternoon cooking and watching football. I am the designated cook in the family. Mary has no interest in cooking anything and consequently has no talent for it. I, on the other hand, like to cook,, so it all works out. Jon and Katie arrived around five after spending the afternoon at her folks where they ate the usual turkey dinner at lunch time. I offered to cook something other than turkey for dinner, but Jonathan is a strict traditionalist and insisted that we have turkey or nothing. The guy loves his turkey. How he can eat that much—two turkey dinners separated by only about 4 hours—is a mystery to me. Of course, when he was growing up we had to feed him at least 6 times a day, plus the occasional snack, to keep him functional. I am not all that fond of turkey, so I was more than happy to send Jon home with all the leftovers.

Today Mary and I arrived here at the lake for a couple days of R&R, It was a beautiful day. The temperature was in the high 50’s with sunshine and no wind. The best Fall day of the year. We spent the afternoon outside raking and blowing the last of the leaves and just generally putzing around outside to enjoy the weather. Mary then started a bonfire and sat outside watching the sunset, while I took a much needed nap. I whipped up some dinner after my nap and now here I sit playing on my laptop. If all this sounds routine and hohum, that is exactly what it is. And I am perfectly content with that.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

continued

the story continues from yesterday....

The year was 1988. It was Tuesday, November 29, five days after Thanksgiving, a gray but unseasonably warm day, when, early in the morning, I got the call from my sister.....

Mom had died only moments earlier. After her long difficult struggle with colon cancer, she was finally released from her suffering. I immediatley headed for my sister’s house, an hour away by speeding car, and arrived before the men from the funeral home got there to take Mom’s withered body away. Yes, there were tears. There was grief. But there was also the real relief that she would no longer be suffering the terrible ravages of that horrible disease. That her death was expected certainly mitigated the sense of loss and prepared us for that inevitable day.

Carol and I then set about making the final funeral arrangements, and started the difficult process of calling relatives and friends to tell them about Mom. We tried calling Uncle Eddie and Aunt Frannie during this process, but got no answer. That was not unusual. They could have been out working in the junkyard, off fishing or hunting somewhere. We gave it no second thought as we drove around town, stopping at the funeral home, going to the florist, closing bank accounts. The usual mundane tasks that accompany anyone’s death.

Mom’s funeral was set for Friday, December 2. Everyone we could think of had been notified by Tuesday evening, the day Mom died. Everyone except Uncle Eddie and Aunt Frannie. We tried to reach them by phone but got no answer. Wednesday morning we found out why.

Everything after that is speculation, supposition, and basic guesswork based on what the police could put together. For while Carol and I had been driving around town on Tuesday, while we had been going through the process of preparing for Mom’s funeral, some person, or persons, had been in the process of beating Uncle Eddie and Aunt Frannie to death. They were found by my brother-in-law bludgeoned, lying in pools of their own blood, next to each other in the barn that served as both office and storage place for the junkyard.

Robbery was the suspected motive, but there was no way to determine what, if anything, had been taken. No one suspicious was ever seen near the junkyard. No witness has ever come forward. No one has ever been accused of the crime. To this day the case has remained unsolved. Now 18 years later, it is a cold, cold case.

We had two funerals within days. Mom’s was on Friday, Uncle Eddie and Aunt Frannie were buried on Monday. Five days after Thanksgiving in 1988, five days after seeing three of our family members still alive, our family was visited by an expected, even hoped for death, and the unexpected violent deaths that continue to shock our memories of that awful time.

Somewhere in the world, a killer is still loose. Somewhere in the world, that killer might be celebrating Thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgivings will always be haunted by the knowledge that our family was chosen to suffer a terrible loss at this time of year. But that only serves to remind us of how thankful we can be for the family we still have, while remembering Uncle Eddie’s fedora, still in place, tilted back on his head, Aunt Frannie sitting primly in the corner, tight curls neatly in place, and Mom in the kitchen supervising, organizing, and still getting everything in order the way it should be. As we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving one more time, we will give thanks for having had them in our lives, while always wondering why they were taken away so cruelly.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I remember this time of year.....

The year was 1988. It was Tuesday, November 29, five days after Thanksgiving, a gray but unseasonably warm day, when, early in the morning, I got the call from my sister....

Mom was always a very active, energetic woman, who would rather take charge to get something done than wait for others to do it. Authoritative and demanding, she was also kind and generous and helpful.

When my father got sick, she took over the breadwinners role as well. She got a job and, in typical fashion for her, was in a management position within the year. When my father died too young at age 58, she didn’t collapse under an overload of grief, but took charge and moved on. Within a couple years she had found a new husband and had started on the next phase of her life.

Resourceful and creative, she could throw a meal together whenever any of us stopped by unexpectedly, and do so without fanfare or complaint. She loved having her kids, my two sisters and me, and grandkids around, and, I’m sure, wished we would be there more often. But, as kids tend to do, we took her for granted most of the time, assuming that she would always be there for us to take advantage of her.

When her second husband died, she found herself more and more involved with a group of friends, widows all, who shared her love of fun and adventure. She, and they, took advantage of their new freedom to travel and party as only a group of Golden Girls, as they liked to call themselves, could do. It was on a Golden Girls field trip to New England in the Fall to see the colors nature bestows on us each year, that she first complained of a persistent pain in her abdomen.

She was a consistently religious person throughout her life, spiritual in a practical way. Her Catholicism was a lifestyle that she lived without reservation. Throughout her life, whenever troubles invaded her and her family’s life, she would insist that God would not give her anything she couldn’t handle. And so she handled all the crises that came along, secure in the knowledge that, though she was being tested, she would eventually take care of the problem and move on. But colon cancer was the one crisis she was unable to overcome. Still, she handled it, convinced that it was just one more test she had to go through to prove to God that she was worthy of His attention.

Colon cancer is an insidious, virolent tyrant that shows no mercy to its victims. After two years of radiation and chemotherapy, the tyrant left my once robust, active mother a mere shell of the person she once was physically. Her spirit never diminished, though. She was right when she claimed that God knew she could handle it, because she did, uncomplaining throughout the whole ordeal.

Thanksgiving in 1988 was on November 24th. For every Thanksgiving I can remember, the whole family, including aunts and uncles, inlaws, and other extended family, would gather at Mom’s house for the usual celebration. But that year, the hostess duties were assumed by my sister, Carol. Mom was there, of course. but she was not at the table. She was bedridden, mostly comotose from morphine, in an upstairs bedroom at my sister’s house. Carol had insisted that Mom stay at her house under her care, rather than languishing alone in a hospital or hospice, for what we all knew would be the last few months of her life. Carol cared for her as only a daughter can.

That Thanksgiving Day we each took a turn sitting with Mom, talking to her, trying to keep her comfortable, and just letting her know we were there. Though Mom seemed unaware due to the morphine induced coma, we all knew she could hear us and would know she was still part of the holiday.

Included at that Thanksgiving dinner were Uncle Eddie and Aunt Franny, my father’s brother and his wife. Uncle Eddie was considered somthing of an eccentric and Aunt Frannie was close behind. Uncle Eddie’s given name was Edward. His brother, my father, was named Edmund. Their mother obviously liked the name Eddie. Maybe that’s where some of the eccentricity came from.

They had no children of their own, but doted on all their nieces and nephews. Always included in family gatherings, they would be there, except at those times when they were hunting or fishing, which was an almost constant activity for them. They were the owners and operators of a metal salvage company called Eddie’s Jalopy Jungle. They were junk dealers. And it made them rich. Not that you would ever know that by looking at them or talking to them.

Uncle Eddie was known throughout the area, being seen most often in his truck hauling a wrecked car to his junkyard, accompanied by at least one of his dogs. There were two things that Uncle Eddie was usually seen with: his dog and his fedora. I remember seeing him many times without his dog. After all, he usually wouldn’t bring Bowser (all his dogs through the years were named Bowser, sometimes two at a time) to all the family gatherings. But I never, ever, saw him without his hat on his head. To this day I don’t know if he had a full head of hair or was bald. The only concession he would make to good manners when inside with his hat on would be to push it back on his head, exposing more of his brow. That’s as close as he got to ever taking it off. There were family rumors that he even slept with it on, though that was never actually substantiated.

That fedora would change colors depending on what he was wearing below his head. At family get-togethers on the formal holidays of the year, he would always show up in a suit, either brown or gray, with a plaid flannel shirt buttoned at the neck. No tie. Buttoning his shirt at the neck was as dressy as he was capable of being. The hat would match the suit. The suit jacket was never buttoned, always open, to allow his substantial pot belly the freedom it needed.

Uncle Eddie’s fedora was as much a part of his personality as his twinkling eyes and ready laugh and raspy voice. When he was telling a story the hat would slide rakishly to one side, or tilt down over his eyes, or sit squarely on his head, all depending on the nature of his narrative or mood.

His dog or dogs (they came and went with regularity) were his constant companions as he wandered around his junk yard or drove around town in his truck. No one knows where his dogs came from. Whether he found them or they found him doesn’t really matter. The one constant among all his dogs was their mongrel ancestry. After all, what purebred dog would want to be a junkyard dog? He was known for stopping at the local diners for lunch, bringing Bowser into the diner with him, and ordering a steak sandwich for himself and one for the dog, who obediently would sit at his side while they both went about enjoying their lunch. That the operators of the diners would allow that was testimony to Uncle Eddie’s popularity in town and how people genuinely liked him.

Aunt Frannie (she preferred Frances) was a throwback to the forties and fifties. She never seemed quite comfortable with change, and so she wore the same tightly curled hairdo all her life, wore the same fashions she wore as a school girl, and always appeared with the tightly controlled, well-mannered demeanor of a proper lady. That ladylike appearance might be dfficult to see when you encountered her in the junkyard working alongside her husband. Then she would be dressed in heavy woolen pants, hightop work boots, and a ratty sweater or two under a coarse canvas man’s work jacket, and as often as not, a grease stained baseball cap of indeterminate origin hiding those tight curls. But even then, she was a lady underneath the disguise.

Uncle Eddie and Aunt Frannie were inseparable throughout theirs lives and it is nearly impossible to think of one without thinking of the other. Still now, 18 years after that Thanksgiving of 1988, for the most awful reason, we especially think of them together.

continued tomorrow...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

the latest

Here are several pictures of the latest wall sculpture to emerge from my workshop/studio. It is titled "Etosha Pan" and is a compilation of several photos taken in Africa by my daughter, Carrie, during one of her sojourns there last year. It is about 54" long and about 16" high and is made of a variety of woods and veneers. It took about six months of intermittent effort to complete, but the wait was worth it. I'm pleased with the way it turned out.






As I've mentioned before, if you would like to see more of my artwork, click on the my flickr link on the sidebar and choose the sculpture, artwork, and furniture sets. I'll have more to add to those sets soon. My workshop/studio is busy with several more projects in the works. Enjoy.

Friday, November 17, 2006

turkey hunt

I'm off to bag a turkey this morning. Literally. I'll go to the store and buy a turkey and put it in a bag an bring it home. Beats the hell out of tromping through the woods, cold and wet, looking for a wild turkey to shoot.

We've certainly come a long way from the hunter/gatherer stage of our evolution. If I had to go out today to actually hunt down a wild turkey, shoot it or trap it or hit over the head with a tree limb, however you actually go about getting one of them, bring it back home without getting my car all messy, pluck the feathers off the carcass, gouge the nasty stuff out of the insides, clean it up nice and pretty, stick it on a spit over the fire to cook, we would be eating spaghettios for Thanksgiving dinner. Thank goodness we've evolved to the point where someone else does all that for me.

Have you ever seen a turkey out in the real world? I've encountered them on the golf course many times. There is flock of them that inhabit the woods around the second hole of the golf course and they frequently stroll across the fairway, oblivious to the risk of getting conked by a mishit ball or run over by golf cart. That is, when hunting season is not in force. Then they blatantly flaunt their freedom from worry, figuratively thumbing their noses at the world. Once hunting season starts, though, the chhickenshit ugly little bustards hunker down in the scrub and refuse to show their sorry feathered asses. It amazes me how they can saunter across the fairways and then totally disappear the moment they enter the woods. You'd think they had some kind of camoflage or something.

Of course, if you consider how those neatly packed frozen turkeys got to the supermarket, you might reconsider the eating of one. Many times I've had to listen to daughter doctor Carrie's diatribe about the inhumane way that turkeys are bred and raised on the farm. Overfed and crowded, they are slaughtered after they have achieved the broad-breasted status so desired by the Thanksgiving diners. Makes you want to become a vegan.

Still, the pull of tradition is stronger than any dislike of turkey farming practices, so I will give in to it and prepare the bird for our Thanksgiving dinner. I'll just think about that wild turkey thumbing his nose at me last summer as he took his own sweet time getting out of the way on the second hole of the course. Who ended up with the birdie now, yoou ugly little fowl?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

caught by surprise

I had an unusual, even weird, experience the other day. I was on a mission to buy a new snowthrower for the coming winter season. Mary got it in her head that we needed a smaller, more easily handled machine so she could use it if necessary, the implication being that I might become too much more disabled to do the job myself as I always have done. That's not the weird part, though.

So I park my truck in the handicap space right at the front door of the dealer who sells the snowthrower I was looking for, grab my cane, and shuffle on into the store. I find the particualar machine I was looking for at the price I expected to pay (having done the necessary research online--am I a modern man or what?) and waited to get the attention of a salesman. There was one guy behind a counter tapping away at a computer. He paid me no mind. Another gray haired guy I suspected was the ranking salesman was jabbering on the phone and didn't acknowledge my presence. So I stood there looking bored and probably somewhat annoyed at the inattention I was getting.

Mr. Grayhaired Salesman finally hangs up the phone and looks in my direction. I point my cane at the snowthrower on display and say, "I'll take one of those." Instead of talking up the machine in question as he approached me, he said nothing, and when he got to me he proceeded to take the cane from my hand, turn it upside down and swing it like a golf club, making some inane comment about how I must get in a lot of practice with it and how it should have a hidden sword in the shaft or maybe be hollow so I could always have a ration of brandy on hand.

I was too startled at his audacity to make any kind of comment. He abruptly handed the cane/golfclub back to me and segued, apropo of nothing, into a rambling discourse on how he grew up at 17th and Lloyd Avenue and how his best boyhood friend, "who lived just a couple blocks away on 16th and Meinecke, ya know, came back for a visit last summer. He moved away a long time ago, his family went down south to Texas to get away from the cold, and he wanted to take a ride through the old neighborhood. I told him it probably wasn't a good idea the way the neighborhood changed and all that, ya know, but he wanted to do it anyway, so I went along. And ya know it was hot that day and we had the windows down and 'they' were all sitting on their porches hanging out on the corners, ya know, and musta been thinking what were we doin in their neighborhood. Gave me the creeps, ya know. They just watch you waiting for a chance to do somethin. We got outa there real quick, ya know."

A bit of explanation is in order here. We're talking about Milwaukee, which in recent studies has been shown to be the most segregated city of its size in the country. The area my new bigoted best friend was referring to is in the "inner city", the most densely African-American populated area. It is like any impoverished and forlorn area that you will find in any large city that has too much unemployment and the resultant too much crime. Destitution and despair replace the air that the rest of us breathe. It wasn't always that way, but it is now. A variety of social factors have conspired to make it so. That's not to offer an excuse for the condition of the city. It just is what it is.

I was dumbstruck. I was speechless. I was caught totally unaware by his discourse. Mind you, he wasn't ranting and raving. He was just making conversation the way a salesman will do. But his conversation was so inappropriate as to be shocking. I mumbled something about buying the snowthrower and he dismissed me to the guy behind the counter saying, "oh, Al will take care of you. Hey, Al, get one of these with the electric start ready for this guy." And he sauntered away oblivious to the shock he had imposed on me.

Had I been thinking quicker on my feet, I certainly should have, and would have, told him to take his prejudice and bigotry and shove them up his redneck ass, stomped out of the dealership and taken my business elsewhere. But, as I said, he caught me totally by surprise. My mind was on the shiney new machine I was looking for, not on some bigot's perception of the world. And I was still trying to understand how a person could walk up to me, snatch the cane from hand, and play with it without any apparent sense of the violation that was.

On the way home (with my new snowthrower in the truck) I tried to think of why that jerk felt it was ok to lay his assinine conversation on me. What made him feel it was alright to make such comments to me? Was it he way I was dressed? I was wearing my usual uniform of jeans, sweatshirt, jacket, and baseball cap. I know my cap didn't have KKK embroidered on it. My sweatshirt didn't say "property of Bigot U" decaled on the front. My jacket didn't have a redneck patch on it. Was it something in my demeanor that indicated to him that I would be receptive to his conversation? Was it that I was about his age that made him feel I would agree with him? Is my gray beard an indication that I harbor a secret bigotry. I'm at a loss here. And I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't react the way my heart and mind tell me I should have.

All I know is that everytime I use that new snowthrower I will think of that guy and his startling behaviour. And I will feel just as bad about it each time.

Monday, November 13, 2006

how it begins?

Sunday morning as Mary opened the blinds to get a sense of the day, she noticed a mess of orange on the driveway. Dismayed, she looked closer, and realized that the mess was the smashed remains of one of the pumpkins from the seasonal decoration of corn stalks, baskets and pumpkins she had placed on the front porch.

It seemed odd that the vandalism occurred now, since halloween is long past and the pumpkins had remained untouched then, when you would normally expect such a petty act of destruction to happen. There was no apparent reason or justification for the action. The randomness of it all made me wonder if that kind of impulsive act, most likely by a teenage punk and his buddies, is where a singleminded disregard for property and consequences begins.

The kid sees a target of opportunity--pumpkins unguarded on a front porch-- and without thinking it through, decides to grab one of them. Now he has it in his hands, but what does he do with it? He figures as long as I've got it, maybe I'll just destroy it to see what it feels like. So he smashes it on the driveway, unheedful of the mess he's made and disdainful of the cleanup chore that will result for the owner of the pumpkin, and unmindful of the anguish that such a violation of property and privacy his act has produced.

Forty years later he becomes President. I wonder how many pumpkins George Bush smashed as a punk teenager?

Friday, November 10, 2006

taken for granted

Tomorrow is officially Veterans Day, a day when we are supposed to reflect on the men and women who, throughout the years, and in various conflicts, have served our country in its armed forces. A wonderful idea in theory. In practice, however, I get the feeling that the day set aside for remembering and honoring those soldiers and sailors is just another day set aside by the government on which we get no mail delivery.

I wish it wasn't so. And yet I am as guilty as anyone else in mostly ignoring the day. I, like many other Americans, simply take for granted that we will always have citizens willing to bear arms in our defense. War is the most despicable, outrageous invention of man, yet for whatever reasons that motivate them, there will always be those who are willing to go to war, to risk their lives in our behalf. It has always been so throughout our history, and I suspect it will always be so.

Of course, having said that, I must reflect on the fact that without those willing to serve, without those who have given their lives in service to our country, I would not be sitting here with the freedom to write these words. Without those willing citizens, the elections this past Tuesday would not have occurred. Without those soldiers protecting our national interests, we would be a society most likely different from what we now are. Without those men and women who courageously served in the most trying , frightening, awful wartime circumstances, and who gave their lives in that service, we would be in a society in which the freedoms we enjoy would be only a dream.

And while in the past I have largely ignored the parades, the cemetary wreath placings, the 21 gun salutes as mere pageantry, I think tomorrow I will take a moment to appreciate the slow moving, limping ex-soldiers who proudly parade down Main Street in uniforms from earlier times; to appreciate those who struggle with a life with lost limbs; to appreciate the families who cope daily with the loss to war of a father, brother, sister, husband, wife, child.

Tomorrow, at some point during my routine day, I will take the time to remove my hat, place my hand over my heart, face the Stars and Stripes waving on the staff in my front yard, and observe a moment of reverent silence and thanks for those who made it possible for me to fly my country's flag in my front yard. They are no longer taken for granted.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

graffiti

A couple weeks ago my daughter came home for a weekend visit, as I wrote about here several posts ago. She is an accomplished artist as well as a doctor (DVM) and scientist, a talented photographer and a natural teacher. She is also appparently a graffiti artist.

After her visit, I got an email from her in which she, somewhat sheepishly, suggested that I check the mirror on the back of her bedroom door. The email came to me only; she usually adresses her emails to both mom and dad, but since I am also an artist, I think she felt safer appealing to my sense of artistic license to soften her mother's reaction when mom got a chance to see what she left on the mirror.

From early childhood she has always been a doodler, a drawer, a sketcher of the world around her. She just always found a way to record her observasions, and often her feelings, with a variety of materials from pencils to crayons, charcoal to chalk, conte crayon to grease pencil, pastels to watercolor and anything that she could use to make a mark on any surface available. She is never without a sketchbook. She is compulsively creative.

As a child she would make her own greeting cards for those special family occasions, like birthdays and Mother's Day and Father's Day. Most often they were funny, clever, well thought out and well executed skewerings of the recipient. I still have a couple of them framed and on dislplay on a shelf in our bedroom. We have a painting of a carousel horse she did when she was four years old that is one of our most treasured artworks. Our home is filled with her artwork--drawings, paintings, and photgraphs that she has left with us over the years. We discovered a series of cartoon drawings she did with the help of her little brother (I'm sure she goaded him into being an accomplice) on the framework of the pool table, when we took the pool table apart to move it one day. There is no way I will ever let that pool table leave the family now that I know it has some of her artwork on it.

So I don't know why she thought we would have a negative reaction to any artwork she chose to leave for us. I guess she felt guilty for "ruining" a good mirror. Far from "ruining" it, she has made it into a treasure. And I know exactly when she did the drawing. It was late one evening when she was in her room talking on the phone with her boyfriend back in California. She can't just sit and talk, she has to be doing something else sat the same time. So she picked up a marker and started to draw on her mirror. At the time I could hear the squeek and screech of the marker on the glass and wondered just what the sound was. Now I know. I'd like to share her latest self-portrait with you. Would you have been upset to discover such a treasure?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

leaves

I was busy blowing leaves again yesterday, for what I hope is the last time this season, when I was struck by the notion that the mighty wind of my leaf blower was analogous to the windy bluster of the political season.

At one point I had a big pile of leaves gathered near a bush, all seeming to huddle together for strength against the breeze trying to blow them apart. Sure, some of the leaves on the periphery were separated from the pile, blown over to the other mound of gathering leaves on the other side of the yard. But, for the most part, that group clung desparately to their bush in the lee of the prevailing wind.

Across the yard another pile was forming, not quite as cohesively as the bush clinging group, but gathering together more and more as the wind blew in their direction. That pile was more scattered and seemed to struggle a bit to come together, having a bunch of Oak leaves trying to mix with the prevailing Elm leaves, to create a consistent group that could hold its shape. It seemed to collect more strength as the bush pile gave in to the breeze and sent some of its members over to the newly formed pile. With the addition of those new members the pile on the other side of the yard became bigger and dominated the yard with its democratic acceptance of all new pile members. The bush-side pile was dwindling as its leaves scattered across the landscape.

Then my trusty leaf blower cast its vote for one big pile by commingling bush pile leaves with the newly formed democratic pile. Now all the leaves were in one big group, gathered together in one place, forming one huge cooperative mound of leaves. Once they were all together it was difficult to tell them apart. They looked pretty much the same. The new pile had a variety of colors and shapes. But when they all came together to form a cohesive whole, they just looked like a pile of leaves. As long as they stick together, clinging to each other for strength, no amount of wind can blow them apart.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

my weekend

I had lunch on Friday again with my friend, Rich, as we do on a nearly weekly basis. As usual the conversation ran from sports to politics to philosophy to family, with lots of laughter at both ourselves and the state of the world. It’s always a real pleasure to have such wide rangeing conversation. When our lunch together is over, I always feel satisfied both physically (my stomach is full), and intellectually (my brain is full). I always feel blessed to have such a good friend at times like that.

While driving home from our lunch, I had the good fortune to hear from another good friend, Pete. (Aren’t cell phones wonderful?) He was calling to ask if I would be interested in going to Saturday’s Wisconsin/Penn State football game. He had an acquaintance who had a couple tickets he wanted to get rid of and knowing what a college football fan, and especially a Badger fan, I am he thought of me. Pete is also a great fan so agreeing to grab those tickets was a no-brainer.

Pete and Judy, his wife, were planning on coming here to spend the day with Mary and me anyway, so we just changed the venue from here to Madison. While Pete and I went to the game, Mary and Judy did what it is that Mary and Judy do: shopping and talking, always at the same time, in equal measure. Nonstop. But I was at the football game so I didn’t care how much talking and shopping they did. Of course, the fact that it was a great game and my beloved Badgers won, meant that Mary could have bought anything and everything and I would just nod and say “that’s nice dear”.

Since we were going to be gone from home for at least 12 hours on Saturday, we asked our son, Jon, to stop by the house to let the dog out sometime during the day (when was the last time you went 12 hours without a nature call?) He agreed to do so. In fact he and his wife, Katie, not only stopped by, they stayed to watch the game on my TV, eat my pizza, drink my beer, and play my piano. Oh yeah, the dog got outside too. Aren’t families wonderful? I may have to consider a padlock for the refrigerator, though.

So here I sit on Sunday afternoon, watching the Packers play the Bills (I love pro football, too, especially the Packers), tapping away at the keyboard on the laptop my daughter gave me, talking on the phone with my son, eating the lunch my wife fixed for me, thinking about my good friends, seeing the sun shining brightly outside, and wondering what I did to deserve all this good fortune.

Now if the Packers can win this game, the weekend will be perfect.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

creativity

Creativity is subjective, I suppose. There are some artistic souls who are recognised as being endlessly creative, constantly coming up with new images and ideas. There are those who claim to be creative, yet are often merely derivitive, copying what they see that others have already done. Art is, of course, in all its various iterations, the most widely recognised forum for creativity, but certainly not the only venue for creative people to excercise their ability.

Every now and then we are fortunate to discover a creative talent that shows real ability to uncover the hidden art in everything around us. Being able to take the mundane, routine, and commonplace images we encounter everyday and illuminate their deeper significance is the mark of a truly creative mind. Being able to look at oneself and reveal the innermost aspects of the residing soul is the artist's greatest achievement. Knowing that revelations of self are the most personal means to express an artistic motive, the self-portrait by the artist is the clearest indication that creativity is a residing presence, a constant companion, to the artist.

While the self-portrait might seem confining as an avenue for creative expression, when done well it makes those of us who view it more aware of our own self image. The deeply personal revelatory act of self-portraiture by the artist can cause us all to look deeper into ourselves to discover anew the aspects that make us unique, or to help reestablish the sense of self we already have. Art that makes us think and touches our soul is ithe best we, as human beings, can do.

And so I urge you to take some time to view the photographic self-portraits of artbandito. They will make you laugh, cry, smile, frown, yearn, seek, find, and understand. They will make you think about and appreciate the world that can give us such ceaseless creativity. The photos will inspire awe and leave you wanting more. That any artist could find more to reveal about herself and, by extension all who share the images with her, after some 500 self-portraits, says a lot about the complexity of our existence, and the need to keep on seeking understanding. I, for one, look forward to that pursuit, led by this incredible artist.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

PD and me

Imagine you’re cold. Your body is trembling from the cold, shivers making you shake to find the warmth. But you are not cold. You are just shaking. Then your jaw starts to move back and forth as though there is something caught between your lower lip and your teeth. But there is nothing there. Imagine the stiffness you get when you have worked too hard at an unusual activity and your shoulders and neck are tight and it is bothersome to move. Now feel like you want to move quickly because you’re in a hurry, but your legs just won’t get going, so you shuffle along as best you can, hoping that no one is staring at your clumsiness. Instead of running up the stairs to get something you forgot, imagine that you can’t get your foot to rise to the first step without a second or two of hesitation. Think about the last conversation you had with friends and how the words just tumbled forth keeping up with your thoughts. Now imagine what it would be like not to be able to get those words out, to finish a sentence, to remember the word you need. Remember the time you were restless and couldn’t get comfortable no matter what you did. Now imagine feeling that way all the time, your legs jumpy and your arms unable to relax. And then, after sitting too long, you get up and your leg shakes and trembles until your brain fiinally tells it to stop. Think about how much you enjoyed that bowl of soup at lunch. Now imagine avoiding soup because your hand trembles too much to get the spoon to your mouth without spilling it on the table and down your chin. Think about how easy it is to type a message on your blog, your fingers dancing effortlessly across the keyboard. Now imagine going back over that last sentence and correcting every other word because your fingers just won’t hit the key you want once, but hits each key two or three times. When was the last time you thought about signing your name to that check you wrote? Now imagine not being able to sign your name becasuse you can't grip the pen enough to control its movement while your hand shakes. Remember last night when you hit the pillow and fell right to sleep and slept soundly and woke refreshed and ready to start the day. Now imagine falling into bed after taking a sedative to help you relax, knowing that you won’t sleep more than an hour at a time, and that rolling over from one side to the other will require a huge effort to get your body to move. Now imagine spending hundreds of dollars a month on medication to help you cope with all that, knowing that this is just the beginning and that it will only get worse. And worst of all, imagine how hurt and upset your wife is seeing you like this and knowing that all those wonderful plans you made together for your retirement might not happen. That’s the Parkinsons Disease I face each day.

Support stem cell research in all its forms. That is the hope I, and others like me, have for the future. Imagine how normal your life is and then remember how mine is. Stem cell research shows real promise if we will let it continue and reach its potential good.