Monday, December 31, 2007

new year's resolutions

I’m not one to make new year’s resolutions. They always seem destined to disappoint and cause guilt. Who needs that kind of baggage on top of the everyday problems we face. So I choose to refrain from causing any extra mental hardship.

I’ve always thought that if we are living our lives with good intentions and are striving to make the most of each day, then resolutions to improve our lives are unnecessary. Just keep doing what you are doing and you should improve your life without really trying or needing the extra boost that a promise to yourself would provide.

So if you insist on making a new year’s resolution, how about making one that promises that you won’t have to make a new year’s resolution next year because this year you were as perfect as you could be. Works for me.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas sunset

The two hour trip north to our lake cottage can be tedious at times, a chore that has to be done in order to enjoy the relaxation promised. Somewhere along the way, I'm not quite sure where exactly, is the amorphous border that is crossed between two realities. The city with its hectic, hurry-up vibe is left behind and replaced by the quiet, clear-aired aura of the country. Nothing exemplifies the difference between the two realities as the clarity and vibrancy of the evening sunsets that Nature splashes across the country horizon. The clarity of the landscape and vivid color we see as we stare west over the lake is an impossibility in the city's westward view cluttered with rooftops and wires and reflected light.

So our Christmas day trip to the cottage this winter evening was worth the effort simply for the reward of this Christmas day sunset. What started off as a lightly colored promise evolved into an intensly colored gift. We watched, awestruck, for nearly 30 minutes as Nature created a masterwork right before our eyes. The color may have faded with the lowering sun, but the memory of that sunset still lingers undiminished. I hope this picture gives some indication of the wondrous beauty that we experienced. Merry Christmas indeed.

Monday, December 24, 2007

happy holidays

If you celebrate Christmas, then I wish you a joyful and blessed Christmas, remembering what the day is supposed to be celebrating. If your celebration is more on the secular side, then I wish you a merry xmas and hope your days are filled with good cheer. For those of you who are of other religious and ethnic persuasions, my hope is that this holiday season leaves you filled with hope for greater understanding of others and tolerance for all beliefs. Happy Holidays. Peace.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

first time this year

There's a first time for everything. Today was my first time shoveling snow off the roof. Don't worry, it is a flat roof so I was in no danger from sliding off into the bushes and snowdrifts below.

What demon possessed me to risk such an endeavor, you ask. Well, there have been numerous reports on the local news about the heavy snow of recent weeks causing roofs to sag and collapse. That planted the seed of worry, and the gutter ice dams that are a result of the warming temperatures causing those huge icicles to hang down from the roofline, spurred me into action. This is not a unique situation here; there have been many years that have produced as much snow and more, yet before now I never had the motivation to get up there and clear away the accumulation of white stuff. Boredom may have played a significant role in this instance.

Still, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment at having thwarted Mother Nature once again. The bright warm sunshine on display today has nearly cleared the gutters of ice now that I cleared away the insulating blanket of snow. The icicles have been knocked to the ground with a few mighty swings of my shovel. And I have no fear now that my roof will collapse from the nearly twenty inches of snow that had rested evilly on its surface.

The satisfaction is worth the aching back and sore muscles that plague this old body right now. A fistful of Advil and a long afternoon nap will bring me back to my normal state of decrepitude. I'm off to the couch to dream of summer days on the golf course......

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

tis the season

Ok, sure, this is the time of year that is supposed to bring tidings of joy and good cheer. We are supposed to be stuffed with happy feelings like a stocking stuffed on Christmas eve. But, realistically, this time of year is one of the more difficult times to cope with.

The property tax bills are due. Gasoline prices are through the roof. The continuous snowfall over the past three weeks has made getting around problematic. Finding the right gifts for those still on the list is always a challenge, not to mention the financial burden that forced gift giving brings. It seems like every subscription to every publication and organization comes due at this time of year, too, adding to the cash outflow.

And those are just the domestic problems that are somewhat under our control. I don’t even want to have to think about the chaos in the world, the wars and genocide, the poverty and starvation, the rampant disease and overpopulation, the raping of the environment and global warming. Add to the mix an election year that brings out the boldly ambitious, power hungry, sound bite spewing politicians vying for our attention and I find myself wanting to bury my head in the snowdrift outside my window until Spring and its promise of renewal rolls around.

So forgive me if I’m not quit into the holiday spirit of joy and goodwill toward men. Despite the decorations and twinkling lights that are meant to lift our spirits at this time of year, I find myself in a struggle to keep the lights plugged in and turned on. The glow is diminished and the decorations seem a little tawdry right now. Somewhere along the way, the true meaning of Christmas has been hijacked by the chaos in the world at large and the immediate world around us.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mecca

Hardware stores are my Mecca. I frequently travel to one to rejuvenate my spirit while I worship among the tools and gadgets and wondrous inventions of man. I don’t necessarily have to buy something to justify my trip there. I just need sometimes to wander the aisles and soak in the essence of the accumulated wonders. To have so many obviously needed items all gathered in one place is truly a blessing.

When I can get Mary to accompany me to my favorite place, that can be the best of all worlds for me. She has the checkbook. And usually coupons. The two are a wonderful combination.

Recently we made the trip to my favorite Ace Hardware store with the intention of purchasing something, I forget exactly what, that she desperately needed. Once there, she discovered to her dismay that she had forgotten the all important coupon at home. She then made the rash decision to leave me unchaperoned in the confines of said Ace Hardware store with a nearly empty shopping cart begging to be filled.

In the half hour it took her to drive home, grab the coupon, and drive back to the store and me, I managed to find all sorts of amazing gizmos and gadgets and little tools and chemicals and objects of wonder that until I laid eyes on them, I didn’t know existed and that I couldn’t live without. When she returned, she found me struggling to move a heavily laden cart toward the checkout.

Of course she exercised her wifely veto power and made me edit my cart full of newly acquired favorite things. Killjoy. I did my whining and begging act and even tried to explain how important each of those objects was to, not just my wellbeing, but hers as well. She wasn’t buying any of it. Literally. She made me put back the majority of the stuff despite my foot stomping and breath holding. She’s a tough nut to crack.

I did manage to salvage some nifty little clamps and thus a modicum of dignity. So the trip wasn’t a total loss. Despite not getting to keep all my found treasures, I did get to spend some quality time alone in that inspiring hardware cathedral and renew my spirit. I should be good for another week or so before I get the urge to add that neat rat nose pliers I saw hanging on the wall. Maybe she’ll have a coupon.

Monday, December 10, 2007

dragon

While clearing space on the worktable in the workshop, I gathered a pile of little scraps left over from other projects and simply couldn't stand the thought of throwing them away. So I started glueing them together to see what might develop.
They developed into a funky dragon.

The scraps that make up my dragon are a wide variety of leftovers like oak and maple and walnut and pine and poplar and probably some others that I've forgotten.

If you look closely you can see his beady little eyes staring back at you.

I feel like he needs a name and for some reason I think of him as a "Darryl" but I'm open to suggestions if you can think of something better to name him.

He only stands 10" high so he is not of formidable stature, but he has both an evil aura and a playful look. Kinda like he might laugh while devouring you. I have him on a shelf behind some of the other sculptures so that he appears to be lying in wait for me to get close enough to his tongue that he might get a taste of me. I am wary.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

gimme mine

You know how some of life’s minor irritations can, over time, fester and become issues and even eventually causes for action? There is an irritation that has bedeviled me for a while now to the point where I have to say something. I give you the yogurt cup.

I like yogurt. Eat it all the time. It is a staple of my lunchtime menu. Yoplait is my brand of choice. And therein lies the rub. Yoplait has seen fit for many years to market their fine product in conical shaped 6 oz. containers that are decidedly unfriendly to your spoon.

So what’s the problem you ask. Well because of the shape of the container, a significant amount of yogurt that should end up on my spoon and then in my mouth, is left to fill the many crevices and nooks of the container. By not being able to scour the last remaining remnants of yogurt out of the cup, I’m not getting all that I paid for. I’ve gone so far as to measure (approximately, sure, but close enough that the government would accept my findings) what remains in the yogurt cup after my best efforts at removal.

I came up with a generous teaspoon full per week of wasted yogurt. That’s 52 teaspoons per year. That comes to approximately one cup per year of yogurt that I paid for and had to waste because of poor packaging (plus or minus a factor for my admitted unscientific measuring). I’ve been eating yogurt as a constant staple of my daily lunches for easily 20 years now, maybe longer. But for the sake of argument, let’s peg it at a mere twenty. That would give me twenty cups of unconsumed yogurt that has languished, unreached by my spoon, in the recesses of that lousy container. Twenty cups is four cups more than a gallon. That’s a lot of product that the purveyors of Yoplait yogurt owe me.

At the risk of sounding unnecessarily petulant about all this, I think the Bureau of Standards and Practices, or whoever is in charge of yogurt packaging should start an investigation and expose those fraudulent marketing practices used by companies that don’t deliver all they claim. If the container says that I should enjoy 6 ozs of yogurt, then I should be able to extract that full amount from the package.

Over the years I’ve gotten cheated and I’m not going to tolerate it any longer. This minor irritation has festered long enough. It’s time for action. I may have to switch allegiances to Dannon or, God forbid, some off brand at the discount store. It’s time I got my full complement of yogurt for lunch and eliminated the cause of all my angst.

PS. Dear Yoplait, I am particularly fond of Blueberry if you decide to make good.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

another one

Here is the latest wall sculpture to come out of the workshop.

It is constructed fro a variety of woods.

The overalll size is 42" long by 12" high.

The workshop is a busy place these days. I have another new cane to show you as well as some neat little candle holders and a couple of sculptures in the works. As I get a chance, I'll post the pictures here for you.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

getting in the spirit

Even though I usually don’t get very enthusiastic about Christmas and all the attendant hoopla, I have to admit that today is probably the perfect day to put up and decorate the Christmas tree. The first winter snowstorm of the season is raging outside, so being inside in the cozy confines of the living room with the fire in the fireplace lighting the and heating the room, a glass of wine sampled at my side, and Mary loading the tree with all the special ornaments (each with a story accompanying it), is stirring seasonal feelings in my otherwise reluctant spirit.

Even though she grumbles incessantly while doing it, Mary always turns the tree into a fine example of Christmas splendor. My contribution to the decorating effort is over once the tree is set up and the lights are strung and twinkling away. Then I gladly relinquish any responsibility for the remaining ornaments getting onto the tree. I figure I would only get in the way. And I don’t take direction very well, so hanging an ornament would be an exercise in confrontation and a power struggle that I choose to avoid. For some reason, Mary seems to think that she, and only she, has the proper decorating sense when it comes to the placement of those baubles on the tree. I happily give way to her. After all, Santa has never failed to make a stop here on Christmas, so she must be doing something right.

Monday, November 26, 2007

one down

I know I'm not alone in thinking that the so-called holiday season is a mish mash of conflicting and overlapping symbols dedicated to the god of excess. When the first faint murmurings of Xmas begin to waft through the airwaves around Labor day, you know we're in trouble. At some point I expect to see Santa toting a pumpkin in his stuffed sack of goodies on his way to Bethlehem and a meeting with the three wise men who are dressed in Pilgrim garb and offering a sweet deal on an Xbox through their website. Somewhere along the way a stuffed turkey will be swaddled in a manger being worshiped by a host of ghouls and goblins while "Come All Ye Faithful" is rapped by carolers dressed in their Halloween costumes. And, of course, the mall will be open at 4 AM on Labor Day for those crazed shoppers who simply have to get started on their shopping for their Easter outfits, the groundhog be damned.

So maybe I exaggerate a bit. But we are being overwhelmed by the constant onslaught of holiday celebrations that run over each other, trampling the meaning and special flavor each of those hoidays used to have. When I was a boy (yeah, here comes the old codger rhapsodizing about the good old days)
Labor day meant the start of school and Autumn leaf raking and the anticipation of Halloween. Thanksgiving wasn't on the horizon until after Halloween had passed. Christmas was a distant dream at that point. Once the Thanksgiving turkey had been carved, then and only then, was it acceptable to start getting out the Christmas decorations and maybe begin humming a few bars of favorite Christmas songs.
Every holiday had its own time and place. There was little confusion about which one was being celebrated at any given time.

My fear is that our children and grandchildren and subsequent generations will lose out on all the fun that each of those holidays brought to the year. None will be special with their own particular flavor when all of them are tossed into the holiday stew we have now. Sometimes the good old days were just that--good.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

can't have too many....

canes that is. So here is another one that I call the Bird Cane.

It is a combination of Maple and Walnut
.
The handle is bird-shaped, hence the name.

The shaft is a series of stacked pieces of Maple and Walnut offset to create the pattern.

Thisi side of the handle is Walnut.

I think this is my new favorite. At least until I finish the next one.

Friday, November 16, 2007

one more blowjob

Oh, cut it out. Shame on you. You know I mean one more leafblowing job. The two big Maples in the front yard have finally given up the last of their leaves, so I get to use my super duper leafblower one more time. And none too soon either. There is a definite chill in the air announcing the imminent arrival winter and snow on the lawn where the leaves are now.

The other sure sign that winter is approaching is the reflector markers my neighbor, with whom I share a good part of the driveway, has placed along his side of the drive to mark it for the snowplower. I used similar markers last year, but the big bad snowplow abused them like a stepchild, leaving them bent and twisted and unusable this time around. So I got me some heavy duty industrial strength steel posts that will need a really big hammer to pound into the ground. Just let Mr. Snowplower Man hit those one time and see how his truck likes it. They will definately leave a mark. He'll think twice about straying from the driveweay boundaries this year. I feel so empowered.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

coincidence or curse?

It has happened too often for us to ignore. We’d like to think it’s mere coincidence, but there is the fear that some kind of insidious curse is at work.

Mary is a loving, caring, generous, sensitive person who befriends perfect strangers with ease. She is a doting mother and a loyal friend. She is a marvelous teacher who has students from many past years contacting her to thank her for her teaching. She remembers birthdays and anniversaries and loves to send cards and gifts to her close friends and many acquaintances on those occasions. She keeps a dustfree house with shiny windows. When she does laundry it always turns out spotless and smelling fresh and she always folds it and puts it away neatly in the appropriate drawers and closets.
She manages the household finances and never has an overdue bill. And she takes wonderful care of me. In other words, she is as close to perfect as a wife and friend can get.

Accept for one thing—if you cross her or antagonize her in any way or hurt those near and dear to her, you or someone close to you WILL DIE. I don’t mean eventually or in the normal course of events, but soon after your confrontation with her. This has happened at least a half dozen times over the years. Someone will say something to her or scold her children or complain about her dog or give her a hard time at school and shortly thereafter that person or someone close to them will bite the dust.

We have laughed about it and made light of those occasions when it has happened, but it is getting downright spooky. Just last week a neighbor up at the lake cottage, who complained about our dog, suddenly developed liver cancer and was dead within the week. Finis. On another occasion, when our kids were little, another lake neighbor scolded them for paddling their paddle boat too close to the neighbors dock. Several weeks later the guy had a heart attack. Gone. Once she had a lousy relationship with the principal at school and his wife died shortly after one of their disagreements. Pushing up daisies.

There have been several other incidents just like that. I’m thinking maybe I can hire her out as a hitman. Make a few bucks. Take advantage of her obvious talent. Coincidence or curse? All I know is that I intend to stay on her good side.

Friday, November 09, 2007

war of the leaves

The guy who invented the leaf blower should be canonized and proclaimed the Patron Saint of Defoliation. I love my leaf blower. Actually, blowers, since I have two of them, one here at home and another one at the cottage. Leaves are everywhere and a guy has to be prepared to do battle at all times. A couple days ago I went to the cottage to wrest control of the lawn back from the carpet of fallen leaves and had a wonderful time, just me and my blower and the sunshine and cool autumn breeze blowing in the same direction I wanted the leaves to go. I was in heaven. The new patron saint was at my side.

Yesterday I did the same thing here at home, but with an added dimension that only a certified lawn control freak could appreciate. I got out my trusty leafblower and the 200 feet of power cord necessary to reach the far ends of my world and blew those leaves into a manageable area. Then the coup-de-grace--I fired up my super duper overcompensating macho lawn tractor with the 38" ultra mulching blades (yes, blades, plural) and attacked mercilessly that accumulated pile of Fall's Finest. Ground those little suckers into confetti. Mulched those lawn suffocating mothers into smithereens. Carved a swath through that pile like a true lawn warrior. I finished with a grin of satisfaction decorating my windblown face. There's nothing quite as satisfying as beating Mother Nature into submission. My manhood was intact and even somewhat inflated.

Two hours after completing the latest skirmish in the war against Autumn's leafy legions, while enjoying the afterglow of my victory, I made the mistake of looking out the window to once more admire the pristine conditions of my leaf free yard. My manhood was deflated, my sense of accomplishment destroyed. Wiley old Mother N. brought out thhe reinforcements. The battlefield was once again under the control of a new blanket of fallen leaves from the seemingly neverendng supply on the two huge Maple trees in the front yard. I had only won a short term respite in the ongoing War of the Leaves. Mother Nature is one tough old bitch.

The battle continues....

Monday, November 05, 2007

secrets

I don’t remember how it got started, but the conversation at one of our get-togethers with friends turned toward a game of secret telling. The point was that each of us should take a turn at revealing a secret about oneself that was previously unknown.

By definition “secret” is something that is intentionally kept hidden and unknown. Why would anyone want to willingly give up a secret that until that moment was deemed too important or sensitive or embarrassing to reveal? Good and trustworthy friends or not, I opted out of the game by saying I have no secrets, that what you see is what you get. Lame, I know, but my secrets are mine to keep and not fodder for the conversational mill.

Equally embarrassing is listening to other’s revelations. I really don’t want to know that you sometimes pee in the shower or that you open a package of cookies and eat them while shopping or that you pick your nose when you think no one is looking. Some secrets are better kept that way, thank you very much. I think that some of the secrets are made up anyway just to get a rise out of the audience. I’m sure that if I revealed that I am actually a cross-dressing CIA assassin with a passion for wearing stiletto heels and fishnet stockings, no one would believe me anyway. So I’m not going to tell you that. Maybe it’s true and maybe it isn’t. Only I know the secret.

Friday, November 02, 2007

seasons change

In the world beyond my front doorstep, the inhabitants have natural ways of observing the changing seasons. When Winter turns toward Spring there is the undeniable fecundity wafting in on mild warm breezes. Spring becomes Summer with the scorching heat of the noonday sun and the enervating humidity that wraps its damp blanket around the world outside. Summer gives way gradually to the endgame of Autumn with its lowering sun and the bursting colors of the leaves accompanied by the nibble of cooler air anticipating the bite of Winter’s cold. Winter’s peace, after the onslaught of blizzards, is a quietly rejuvenating time of restful hibernation beneath the snowy insulation.

I, however, have no need for such natural indicators of the changing seasons. I need only look toward the front door, the side door, all the windows that look out onto the world, and every available horizontal, and a good many vertical, spaces in this house we inhabit. I am married to a compulsive seasonal decorator. Not a season or holiday is allowed free passage through our world without the appropriate decoration to herald its passing.

I know that the Halloween season is over because there are no ghostly stickons on the windows nor a jack-o-lantern on the porch steps. The lighted pumpkin is gone from the window, the witchy broomstick put away. In their place are turkeys and uncarved pumpkins and brightly colored leaves stuck to the windows. The turkeys are lit with tiny twinkle lights of indeterminate color that strive to be festive. By these harbingers of the season I know that we must be nearing Thanksgiving. I have no need to step outside to experience the weather of the new season.

I have no need for a calendar, since I’ll know that Christmas is imminent by the proliferation of red and green decorations around the house that will bury us in their festive gaiety. And once that season of all seasons is past, there will be a short respite until Valentines Day and Presidents day and Groundhog Day and then the first sign of Spring when Easter hops into the picture.

All these seasonal changes are marked by a prodigious supply of colored twinkle lights used to draw attention to the turkeys and pumpkins and Santas and hearts and bunnies. Twinkle lights are the one common denominator in all her decorating schemes. Mary loves twinkle lights. She has them everywhere. I am convinced that global warming is directly caused by her ever-increasing consumption of energy powering her supply of twinkle lights. She has even informed me that her funeral is to be lit with them, her casket wrapped and swaddled with strings of twinkle lights.

Now I am haunted by the disquieting notion that if the lights ever go out, I won’t know what season it is. If the decorations somehow fail to adorn the windows, porches, and walls I won’t know what to celebrate or whether a gift is appropriate. If an energy crisis dims the lights, I will be left in the dark more ways than one. I might even have to stick my head out the door to test the air outside to give me a hint about what season I am currently celebrating. Unlike the rest of the world outside my door, I rely on her marking the seasons with her lights and wreaths and stickon images to keep me up to date on the seasonal changes occurring. I may need to get out more.

Friday, October 26, 2007

homecoming

Have you ever felt superfluous, unneeded, an afterthought, just one more item on the agenda? Have you been so entrenched in a role that when the second act comes, you are surprised when they changed the play on you? No longer the leading man, only a bit player in the chorus has become your billing. Kids can do that to you.

How dare they grow up and get all adult on me. Daughter Carrie and her new husband, Jeremy (the same two that I married back in August) are arriving for a visit for the weekend. Their plane is scheduled to arrive sometime around six this evening. So far so good. Normally it would fall to dear old mom and dad to pick them up at the airport, take them out to eat, and then bring them home to share our happy little home. I expect to do those things. I want to do those things. That is my role, an offshoot of the nurturing and providing and support that I provided my children as they were growing up. But nobody told me that once they did grow up that dear old dad would become dear old whomever.

Mary is the quintessential mother and planner. She has always done the scheduling, the planning of activities, been the arbiter of time management. She also has been cast aside, rudely interrupted in her role. Perhaps we have overstepped our bounds in seeming to dictate how our children would spend their weekend visit HOME. We have been informed that they have their time all planned out and they will let us know when the will have time to drop in to see us during their visit.

Not only have they told us when they will see us, they have also made arrangements to stay, not here at HOME, but with Jon and Katie, our son, Carrie’s little brother, and his wife, at their house, unchaperoned by mom and dad and out of our influential orbit. What? They think they will have more fun there than here in the house they grew up in. Suddenly, I’m no fun anymore?

And get this. They have rented a car. That way I don’t have to pick them up at the airport. That way they can just come and go as they please. That way they can go and visit Jeremy’s folks first upon their arrival. That way I don’t have to lend them one of my vehicles for the weekend. That way they can be so damned independent and not feel obligated to me. How am I supposed to play the guilt card if they won’t deal it to me?

It’s just possible that they felt they could plan their own visit since Mary and I are going to be gone to the UW Badgers homecoming game tomorrow without them. What? They can’t just wait patiently for us to get home? I mean, come on, it’s homecoming weekend. We go to a homecoming football game while they come home and wait for our homecoming. Sounds fair to me. But no, they figure they can just go gallivanting around however they damn well please since I’m not going to be here to guide them and watch over them. And we had it all so well planned. Ungrateful brats.

Still I’m sure that once I actually get to lay eyes on my loving daughter all will be forgiven. We will laugh and have interesting discussions, disagreeing amiably, and agreeing wholeheartedly on the state of the world. She will try to explain to me what her research is all about and I will nod knowingly while remaining totally flummoxed by her lecture. But I will listen. And we will bemoan the shortness of the visit.

Whose idea was it that kids get to grow up and become adults with minds of their own that they use to torment their poor parents. That may be the way it’s supposed to be, but I don’t have to like it. Though our well-planned visit is being sidetracked by their own ideas, I figure someday I will get revenge. I am going to have the most spoiled grandkids in the history of the world. Hah, let them deal with that.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

cane

While strolling last Saturday among the shops alluded to in the last post, I used this cane which I had just completed the day before. I was gratified to find that people actually noticed it. No fewer than five complete strangers approached me and remarked about it.

Here is a closer view of the handle.

The cane is made from pile of scraps that accumulated on the workbench--pine, oak, maple, walnut, cedar, aspen, and mahagony. I'm sure glad I don't throw anything out.

Monday, October 22, 2007

sucked in again

I don’t know who exactly came up with the idea for Sweetest Day, but I suspect it was a collusion between gift card companies and the florists. What it has become, though, is a trap for the unsuspecting, unaware guys who don’t realize that the day is supposed to have some kind of significance for the Woman-Who-Rules-All.

Last Saturday, which just so happens to have been the aforementioned “trap,” found me accompanying my version of the Woman-Who-Rules-All in an expedition to a nearby village that consists of a consortium of gift shops, antique stores, quaint little tea shop/restaurants, art galleries, and the always dangerous jewelry stores. This particular little village exists, I am certain, as a place designed by the devils of commerce, as a hugely successful giant vacuum that sucks the dollars from a man’s wallet and the sanity from his brain.

I was coerced, although admittedly with little resistance, into spending the day in that particular ring of hell because it was a beautiful autumn day, unseasonably warm and sunshiny, a good day for a walk outside, and the UW Badgers were playing a nonconference game against a patsy (the Badgers won 44-3. Go Badgers!) and I didn’t mind missing the game. So I found myself shuffling in and out of those shops, which were packed to the rafters with cutesy doodads and ugly gimcracks, trailing after The Woman like a stray puppy, eager to please, but not knowing how. My grumbling was becoming ever more whiney with each shop that she found irresistible and I found inescapable. She was losing patience with me in inverse proportion to my losing my sanity.

And then a spark of awareness flashed, the source of which I am uncertain, rescuing the day from the clutches of the misspent. Sweetest Day! It was Sweetest Day! A chance to score some much needed points in the marriage game! And wouldn’t you know it, just as that awareness dawned, we found ourselves looking at a display of silver necklaces in a jewelry shop that appeared miraculously around us. The imp on my shoulder fairly cackled with glee, urging me to whip out my wallet in a show of chivalrous extravagance. And so I did.

So now, though my wallet is lighter by several zeroes, my points total on the marriage tote board is inching closer to positive numbers. Still, it seems that the consortium of gift card purveyors and florists are a few artificial incentive days short of making me balance the red and black numbers on that tote board. I have every confidence that they will find new and exciting ways of separating me and other unsuspecting guys from our money in the interest of marital harmony. We already have birthdays and anniversaries to remember and Mothers Day and Sweetest Day crowding our calendars. That leaves at least 361 more days to play with. But when we get to “No, That Dress Doesn’t Make You Look Fat Day,” I’m cashing in my chips and heading for the afterlife.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

from the studio

Here's a little vignette I call "The Dance." It is Oak and stands about 10" high. It is a piece that just evolved from several scraps of material lying on the workbench. One thing lead to another and this is the result.



I've added this piece to my art blog as well, so feel free to click on "gallery" in the sidebar to view my other work if you haven't already done so.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I don't get it

So out of boredom the other day, I was channel surfing through the limited number of over the air channels (no cable or satellite available) on the TV at the cottage, and happened onto a Nascar race. I am not now nor have I ever been a racing fan, but I like to claim an open mind, and my natural curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to give it a chance. Nascar racing is purported to be the fastest growing spectator sport in the world, so I figured I should try to find out what all those people were finding so fascinating.

I am not going to bash racing fans and Nascar fans in particular, but I just don’t get it. I tried desperately to figure out who was running in first place in the race, or any place for that matter, but confusion reigned. The announcers were speaking some kind of foreign language filled with unintelligible jargon so fast and furiously that understanding them was nearly impossible. For some reason, the announcers are apparently required to have thick southern redneck accent in order to get the job of race analyst. That alone was a turn-off for me. I realize I’m stereotyping here, but every time I hear anyone talking with that cornpone accent I immediately get visions of one-strap bib overalls on a gap-toothed, inbred, roadkill-gnawing, moonshine addled, barefoot, ridgerunning hillbilly whose extended vocabulary consists of an extra aww shucks between y-alls. And when whatever he is saying spews forth without regard to punctuation in a rapidfire stream of consciousness babel, it becomes incomprehensible to my ears. Then when you add in the fact that there were at least three of those voices vying with each other for control of the microphone, you have a cacophony of nonsense that does nothing to explain to the uninitiated exactly what is going on.

Still I stuck with it for the better part of an hour. I thought maybe if I could pick out a particular car to follow I might be able to figure out what was happening. So I picked out a nice red car (red is my favorite color) that seemed to have a nice loud roar as it passed by (I reasoned that in an enterprise such as this, the louder your engine the faster it goes) and tried to find its number or any identifying markings that would allow me to recognize it on camera as it made all those left turns. Unfortunately, there were several red cars in the race and each one was blanketed with a dizzying array of decals, making identification a chancy sort of exercise. I couldn’t figure out how anyone could know who was leading the race since it was mayhem on the track as far as I could tell.

When I was able to understand what the announcers were saying I still didn’t understand what exactly they were referring to. Talk about loose cars, tight handling, and drivers who like it on top of the track and some who like it on the bottom and all the nudging and kissing and rearending of fenders had me envisioning Jimmy’s Johnson getting a workout in the backseat of his car. Then I was assured that these cars don’t have backseats and I was much relieved. Still the announcers sounded like nearly orgasmic voyeurs at times when talking about what was happening on the track.

I was starting to feel dirty, so I made a right turn, got off the track, and turned it off. There was a golf tournament on and that is much more my speed.

Friday, October 12, 2007

one of those days

Did you ever have one of those days when everything seems to be just a tad to the right of center? It's not that everything is going wrong, just that everything is a bit out of sinc. Nothing is really wrong, but nothing is really right either. It's been one of those days for me today.

It started this morning when I forgot to put on my "patch" before getting dressed. The patch is one of those transdermal medicine things that gives a steady stream of PD medication during the day. I was only an hour off schedule which is insignificant unless you are a stickler for schedules like I am. That started me off on the crooked trail through the day.

I ran out of orange juice at breakfast and in dealing with that I forgot to take my vitamins. So before the day is done I will probably come down with scurvy or something like that.

I then drove to the hardware store and hit every red light along the way. Then the store had what I came for, but it had been moved to another part of the store so I had to search for it. I even had to ask for help and we all know that men don't do that. It's like asking for directions. Then I went to pay for it and I needed three lousy pennies in change, which I of course didn't have, so I had to break a ten dollar bill. Not earth shattering, I know, but irritating none the less.

Then I stopped at the library only to find that I left my library card at home. They can access the card information in the computer system, but I was embarrassed for my negligence.

I swung over to the grocery store on the way home to get some orange juice (see above) and some bananas, but the bananas were all overly ripe. So I had to go to a different store. In the parking lot all the handicap spaces were taken so I had to walk all the way across the lot. I'm having a slow day physically as it is and that didn't help. Besides, its cold and windy and I'm a sissy. I want to park close, but all those other cripples beat me to it.

I got home and realized that I had forgotten to run the diswasher after breakfast, so now the cycle won't be done before we leave for the weekend. Who cares? I do. I hate leaving knowing that when I get back I will have to empty the dishwasher. I know, stupid. And I haven't gotten around to cleaning the kitchen as per Mary's instructions (it's right there on the list she left me this morning) yet, so she will be pissed at me when she gets home.

I think I will go take a nap. Or at least try to. I probably won't be able to sleep anyway. Is it tomorrow yet?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

solo

I've never been a joiner. Being part of any organized or semi-organized group has never been appealing to me. I shun congregations, assemblies, clubs, cliques, committees, groups, and even teams. Meetings that involve more than two people are black holes into which accomplishment is sucked, never to be seen again. Mobs are a definite no-no. Mine has always been a solo act.

So finding myself yesterday attending a meeting of men with Parkinsons Disease was a total departure from the norm for me. This was a so-called support group. The stated purpose of the group was to provide a forum for discussion of our similar experiences with PD and hopefully draw some strength from the knowledge that we are not alone in coping with it. The group has a regular roster of 18-20 men, ten of whom were in attendance yesterday.

I approached the group meeting with a plate full of doubt with a good-sized side order of skepticism. I expected it to be a session of whining and clinical comparisons of medications and treatments with everyone trying to be more woeful than the others. I was disabused of that expectation immediately. Instead what I got was a roomful of friendly and articulate men sharing the ways that PD has changed their expectations and goals and lives. It was a refreshingly open and frank discussion that I enjoyed immensely..

I found myself jumping right into the discusssion knowing that here finally was a group of people who would understand what I was talking about. That alone was worth the price of admission (the price of admission being an open mind). They knew what I meant because they had experienced the same thing themselves. I knew what they were talking about from my similar experiences. It was like finally finding that round peg that fit into that round hole.

So I guess my solo act has been compromised. At least in regards to this new group of friends. I will definitely attend the next meeting. But if they break the group down into committees to plan the Shake, Tremble, and Shuffle Holiday Shindig, I'm out of there.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

sleep aids

We’ve all experienced it at one time or another: the inability to fall asleep. I’m not talking about full-blown insomnia, just the occasional restless, fitful sleepless night, the kind of night that finds your mind racing through all the events of the previous day and all the upcoming responsibilities of the next. I have that kind of night more frequently than I would like, but I have found a couple ways of coping with that restless mind and coaxing it into sleepyness.

Often, when sleep seems particularly illusive, I focus my mind on finding the next, so far undiscovered, unnamed color. I am convinced that somewhere out there in nature there is a new color that man has yet to see and experience. It is a combination of Nature’s finest efforts, multiplied and intensified beyond our imagining, then muted subtly into a visual creaminess that will wash over our optical sense, blanketing us in a contentment so far unknown. Focusing on that search works to focus my mind so that all those intrusive and upsetting thoughts are swept into the corner, left there to gather dust unnoticed. Sleep usually follows quickly after my mental color safari begins. I have yet to even come close finding that new color, so the search continues on those nights when a restless mind means to get the better of me. I hope I never find that perfect color, for if I do, I will have to find some new quest to take its place in order to get the sleep I need.

Another favorite technique for inducing sleep out of the restless fidgeting that follows an overly active day is to play a flawless round of golf on the perfectly groomed golf course in my head. Teeing off with a laser-like drive 300 yards down the middle of the impossibly verdant fairway starts me on an imaginary round that is nothing but perfect drives, long iron shots to tight pins, soaring wedges that stop dead next to the hole and never-missed putts of any length. Perfection is possible on that golf course in my head. Usually by the fifth or sixth hole I have drifted off to a contented sleep, safe in the knowledge that I am the world’s greatest golfer. At least as long as dreams last.

So those are my two sure ways to wrestle sleep from the clutches of latent insomnia. They work for me most of the time. When they don’t, there are always drugs or the flock of sheep that somehow manages to leap the fence one at a time in orderly disciplined fashion. Or when truly desperate, the more natural sedative of “War and Peace” or an enervating slog through anything written by James Joyce will make you sleep or, if you are not careful, comatose.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

art blog

I've managed to get my new art blog up and running. It took some time to find all the pictures and upload them to the site, but with a concentrated effort over the past week I got it done. I know there are several other pictures I wanted to include, but I just can't find them anywhere. Still, I have a fair representation of my work from the past several years on the site.

To get there you can click on "gallery" in the sidebar or you can just click here No matter how you get there, I hope you enjoy looking. Let me know what you think.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bobby's got his mojo back

After a weekend at the cottage, I feel like I'm back to being myself again. The wonderfully intelligent, creative, sensitive, loving, caring, talented, wise, efficient, and, of course, goodlooking, Bob is back. Well, maybe I'm overstating the condition of my psyche and my many attributes just a little, but the goodlooking part stays.

While at the cottage, I cut the grass Saturday morning and felt good about getting that done, but still had enough energy and desire to get to the golf course and try to play the game I love again. I had been having some difficulty holding the golf club due to the increased tremors I was experiencing and coordinating all the necessary muscles needed to make a good golf swing. But I wasn't quite ready to give up just yet, so Saturday was a test, not just of my will, but also of my physical capability. I wwent expecting to play only 9 holes, but finished 18. I am thrilled to report that I have my game back. I played exceptionally well for me, shooting an 81 with three birdies along the way. For those of you not tuned into golf, a birdy is a good thing. Three of them for a golfer of my skill level is wondrous and worthy of much bragging. I was very pleased and can't wait to get on the course again.

I have also been spending a lot of time in the workshop over the past week, working on several different projects and getting revved up about that, too. It feels so good to have a lot to do and the willingness to do it. I have also been working on getting another blog up and running that will be solely for the purspoe of showcasing my artwork and woodworking. Getting all those pictures uploaded and organized has taken a lot more time than I anticipated, but that's not a complaint. I do it all willingly and with pleasure.

And I have even been paying attention to all the notes Mary leaves me each morning, giving me long lists of chores to accomplish. I havent started doing any of the chores, but I am reading the notes. It's a start.

So my recent bout with depression is hereby officially declared over. I'm baaack.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

my father continued

My father was not a weak man in any sense despite his seeming willingness to give in to the despair that hastened his end. After years of illness, his ability to fight waned enough that, I’m guessing, death was a welcome relief. That is not to suggest that he was overtly suicidal, only that the fight was taken out of him and replaced by a complacency that abetted his despair. Toward the end, I think he had just had enough of the fight and gave in.

But my memories of my father are more than the bleak and dark times that defined the last few years of his life. The better memories are of a father who could make us laugh until our sides hurt and we were rolling on the floor in blissful agony from the laughter. Our family mealtimes were times of unfettered discussions and much silliness. My two older sisters were no more able to resist his clowning than I was.

He was the undisputed head of the house, even when he was doing Mom’s bidding. I learned from him that it is alright for a man to wash the dishes after dinner, that pushing a vacuum isn’t gender related, that hard work is its own reward. My father was a man in every sense of the word, physically strong and willing to do whatever needed to be done to provide for his family. I distinctly remember him working at three jobs at once for a while, driving truck for two different companies and working in his brother’s junkyard cutting up wrecked cars to provide for us. Yet he never complained or even suggested that he was having a tough time or that he couldn’t handle the pressure that must have been there.

He was imposing physically in his prime, standing 6’2” at 195 lbs of well-defined muscle. Those muscles were formed when he was a young man playing all the various sports that young men play. He even had a short stint as semi-pro football player. I have seen press clippings from that era that describe some of his exploits on the football field. What ever happened to those clippings, I don’t know, but I wish I had saved them. Yet one of my greatest regrets is that he never pushed me harder to play and possibly excel at sports. I don’t know why that is, but he never did. Sure, I played baseball and football and basketball, but only intramurally and in pick-up games and never particularly well. I don’t know if that was a disappointment to him or not because he never pushed me in that direction.

He was a man of few words when it came to expressing his feelings. I never once heard him say “I love you” to any of us—not to Mom or my sisters or to me. Yet there was no doubt in our minds that he did indeed love us. He just preferred to show it by the way he took care of us. Never once did he raise a hand to any of us in anger. But never once did he offer to hug or hold us close either. He and I never once had a deep or meaningful conversation, but that may be due to my own reticence as to his. Like father, like son, I guess.

So toward the end of his life we didn’t have the foundation for communication that would have allowed us to know each other better than we did. When he was struggling with his physical deterioration and allowing that to affect his emotional and mental health, he didn’t have the ability to talk about what he was feeling. So he turned to that bottle of brandy and gulped down pills and never said a word.

Now that I find myself in a similar situation to his—I have a chronic disease in PD and am struggling to cope mentally with all that goes with it—I am determined not to follow his example in this circumstance. He was 58 years old when he died; I am now 59. I learned from him how to be a father and a man, but I also learned from his mistakes in matters like the one that faces me now. I will talk about it. I will seek help in coping with it. I will not swallow fistfuls of pills or have a brandy bottle as a constant companion to combat the strain of dealing with my life as it is now. I am proud to be his son, but I will be my own man.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

not for me

In my recent discissions here about my struggle with depression, I realize that I have not made it known that drugs are a last resort, if any resort at all, for me. I have real tangible aversion to drugs dating back to my father's last few years of life.

For the last five or so years that he lived, my father was quite sick. What his illness was, I have no idea, only suspicions. He was just always in and out of the hospital with various ailments that were never fully explained to me. It's true that I wasn't paying a great deal of attention at the time, being newly married and in a struggle to make my way in the world. His movements in and out of the hospital became somewhat routine and therefore noted only in passing. On those occasions when I did visit my boyhood home, I would find him sitting at the kitchen table more often than not with a half empty bottle of cheap brandy at hand, a smoldering cigarette dying in the ashtray, and a small pile of pills ready to be washed down with a gulp of that brandy. That ever present pile of pills was replenished as necessary from the horde of medications stored in quart-size bottles that occupied the top shelf of the refrigerator.

He was never particularly communicative in the best of times, preferring to keep his thoughts to himself. So we were never able to discuss those little piles of pills or the ever present bottle of brandy. I never screwed up enough courage to confront him and ask him why he needed the brandy or what those pills were for. His suffering was personal and not something he wanted to talk about with his only son. And I accepted that. In retrospect, I realize now that he was going through the throes of depression, probalbly due to his struggles with those unnamed physical ailments. Now I wish I had been more insistant about having that discussion.

It's those bottles of pills that have left me with my aversion to taking too many different meds for every known or perceived ailment. They didn't really help him as far as I can tell. So I have little faith in modern pharmacology as the panacea for whatever ails you. I have promised myself that I will never have quart-sized bottles of pills in my refrigerator. At least not pills that are mind altering as a way of coping with my mild depression.

to be continued.........

Monday, September 24, 2007

enough

That's it. No more feeling sorry for myself. I refuse to be depressed any longer. I don't have it so bad. There are millions of people who have it a lot worse than I do. So I had a PD setback. So there are things I can't do as well now as I could before. Deal with it and move on.

Sounds easy. It's not. But I am working at it. The air in my life is too precious to be fouled by the pollution of depression. So I'm taking deeper breaths and savoring the sweetness of that air, before anymore pollution settles in. Thank you to those of you who have offered encouragement. Don't stop. I still need your help.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

still down

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning with clear skies, bright sunshine, and a gentle breeze. I’m sitting on the deck looking out into the backyard, watching that breeze tease the Pampas grass plumes that reach some eight feet high. I should be rejoicing in the simple beauty of that scene, content with my surroundings and glad to be here. But the fact is, I don’t give a shit.

For the past several days, after seeing the therapist for the first time last Wednesday, I’ve been trying mightily to stay upbeat and positive. I’ve forced myself into the workshop to work on the several projects I have started there. I got out and cut the grass yesterday; something I usually enjoy doing, but it was just a chore that had to be done. Jonathan stopped over Wednesday after work and stayed for dinner, which was a real pleasure, but that only underscored the fact that he has his own life to live and I am now just a small part of it. Mary has had a rough start to the new school year and I try to stay sympathetic and lend her the ear she needs and offer the encouragement she deserves, but it is very difficult when my mind is elsewhere mired down in my own miasma of depression.

I thought I was getting through this funk I’m in since I felt more energetic for a couple days, but that seems to have been a false illusion. Just writing this down is taking a huge amount of energy and concentration, energy and concentration that I feel is misspent since no one is reading this claptrap anyway. Normally on such a beautiful day I would be on the golf course. But right now I don’t care if I ever play golf again. The fact that my hands tremble too much when I try to hold a golf club may have something to do with it. This time of year is always exciting for a sports fan like me, but I find that I can’t muster the enthusiasm to cheer for the Brewers who are fighting for their division title for the first time in many years, can’t get riled up about the UW Badgers who are playing a primetime game on national tv tonight, can’t find it in myself to be concerned about the Packers and their game on Sunday. In other years at this time I would be glued to the tv, anxiously sweating out all those games. But now I just don’t care.

I need to get my mojo back, and soon. I don’t like the place I’m in right now and need to find the door that leads out of this place. I’m looking for it, but without too much commitment. I just can’t roust myself to try harder. I can’t seem to get on the right track. I just need someone to kick me in the ass and make me get up and do it. I don’t like where this is taking me. I hate feeling like this.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

weekly highlights

You know you're in trouble when the highlights of your week are a visit to the dental hygienist and a visit to a shrink. Can it get any more exciting than that?

Something that has always bothered me about dental hygienists: why do they insist on talking and making comments that would normally ellicit a response when they know you can't respond or comment because they have their fingers in your mouth? So, added to the discomfort and, yes, sometimes real pain, is the frustration of being unable to get off that clever quip in response to something she said. Is that a ploy they are taught in dental hygienist school as a way of distracting the patient from noticing that his gums are bleeding and his nerve endings are screaming in agony? If it is, it ain't working.
I think all conversation should be banned when I am in the dentist chair so that I can concentrate on the torture at hand. I don't really want to hear about your dog chasing his tail or your husband riding his Harley without a helmet. Or was it your husband chasing tail and your dog riding on the Harley? Who gives a crap. Let me enjoy the agony quietly.

Then today I paid a visit to the staff psychologist at the neurolgist's office where I get treated for Parkinsons Disease. That was definitely a first for me. Never in my life did I consider the possibility of visiting a psychologist. That was for crazy people, not someone like me. But if you read my previous post here, you know that I have been depressed about life for a little while due mainly to the progression of PD. So for me, admitting that there was a problem to be dealt with was a big step. Then actually doing something about it was a major breakthrough for me. The time I spent with the psychologist this morning helped a great deal in my realizing that it is ok to be down and pissed off as long as I don't stay down and pissed off and get on with my life. We set some reachable goals for the next week that should help me out of this funk I'm in. I think I will be alright.

Friday, September 14, 2007

depression

Depression is an insidious invader. It creeps up on you on stealthy feet, muffled by the sounds of daily life. Before you know it, a shroud is thrown over your mind that allows less and less light to penetrate into your consciousness.

What triggers the onslaught? Where does it get its first foothold. Why can’t it be stopped as easily as it starts. What defenses can be thrown up to keep it at bay? Why am asking these questions?

For the past few weeks now I have been “out of sorts.” I have little ambition. I can’t get interested in anything. I don’t care if the daily chores get done. I just want to sleep the day away. I don’t care to work in my workshop. I don’t care if I get to play golf again. I haven’t wanted to write or contribute to this blog. The fact that my favorite teams have been winning their games lately doesn’t pique my interest. I just don’t care.

I find myself worrying endlessly about things I have no control over. And I worry even more about the things I do have some control over. I look ahead and the future scares me. I look back and have too many regrets.

Parkinsons Disease is a root cause of my current lapse from happiness. PD is relentless in its quest for control. It starts out slowly and then it just keeps getting more and more entrenched in your life, until one day you find that it has more control over you than you have over it. PD spreads its tendrils ever farther into your body until it gains enough presence to ensure that you can’t forget it’s there. It only gets worse; never better.

My PD symptoms have spread to the left side of my body now where before only the right side was affected. Now there is no respite from the shaking and tremors that afflict my hands and arms and legs. PD complicates everything I do and causes other physical problems as a result of trying to move normally. I get sore and pulled muscles easily. Sciatica has attacked my right leg so that I can’t sit for more than a few minutes without discomfort. My neck and shoulders are always stiff and sore enough that I can’t find the one position that will allow me to relax. Nighttimes are a series of tortuous turnings between short lapses into sleep.

With this ratcheting up of PD in my life comes the fear of the future and what it has in store for me. How will I cope with this new reality. What will I do if Mary can’t take care of me? What will I do if by something unthinkable happens to Mary and I have to take care of her? What will we do If I can no longer take care of our house. What will happen to me when I can no longer drive? I can’t bear the thought of leaving this house that we have lived in for all our married life, where we raised our children, where we call home. But I know that the time will come when we will have to leave here and that scares me. The uncertainty of the future has me nearly paralyzed with fear.

All those fears, irrational as they may be, are the allies of depression. Those fears cloud my senses and allow depression to work its way deeper and deeper into my brain. I realize what is happening, but I feel mostly helpless to fight it off. Why, if I know what’s going on, can’t I just stop it and say, “I refuse to be depressed.” Why do I allow those fears and worries to take over my consciousness? I’ve always felt I was a strong-willed person able to control my emotions and capable of handling any and all situations that life coould throw at me. But lately, my confidence has been shaken by the strength of the depression that has gained such a strong grip on me. I don’t like feeling this way.

I have been able to hide this depression for the most part from Mary. She is the champion worrier of all time and I don’t want to burden her unnecessarily. And I certainly don’t want my two dhildren to be concerned. They have enough to handle with their own lives without my becoming a problem for them as well. So I “suffer” mostly in silence, trying my best to cope with all this. Fortunately, I can still see that glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel so I know there is some hope still there. I’m trying. I’m trying.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11

I don't want to remember. I know that all the articles and pundits say that we should take time today to remember the enormous tragedy of six years ago. Why? It doesn't help to come to grips with that infamy by remembering that awful day. I prefer to put it behind me and not think about it. It's still too depressing, too shocking, too real for me, so I choose to forget. I mean no disrespect to the many victims, both innocent and brave, who perished that day. I just can't figure out how dwelling on those cowardly attacks will help me cope. I want to forget. I want life to go on. I want move away from the horror and shock. I don't want to pretend it all didn't happen, I just want to push it all aside for awhile. I just want to forget for awhile. I just want it all to go away. I need to forget.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

dmv blues

Today I was faced with one of the most dreaded chores required of modern man: a trip to the DMV. Everyone has a horror story to tell about being at the DMV for a mostly routine reason and having to spend many hours trying to get it done.
My reason was the need to replace my handicap card which I stupidly left in our rental car in California a couple weeks ago. So I screwed up my courage and entered the abyss that is state government beaurocracy.

I was pleasantly surprised at first when it seemed I would only have to wait maybe fifteen minutes or so to be taken care of. I was only four numbers away from being called to the counter when I first arrived and checked in. Two of those numbers were called within the first five minutes I was waiting, so you can imagine how smug I was feeling. It looked like I was going to get out of there without sacrificing valuable hours to the gods of inefficiency. But those same gods were messing with me, leading me down the path of frustration.

I arrived there at 9:45 this morning. Bad timing. It seems that a fifteen minute break for the counter staff is mandated each morning at 10:00 and today they were right on schedule. So instead of my projected and hoped for fifteen minute wait, I had to wait for breaktime to be over before getting my turn at the counter. Still, I figured with only two more numbers to be called before my magic number came up, I still could be out of there in only 30 minutes.

Why is it that I get in the line that always moves the slowest. At the supermarket, the hardware store, the line at the mens' room, I always find the slowest moving line to get into. It is my fate to wait longer than anyone else no matter where I am or what I am doing. My number was 432. The guy with number 430 apparently had some kind of esoteric transaction that no one in the entire world, let alone the minions at the DMV, had ever encountered before. I swear the guy was at the counter, using my valuable time, causing unimaginable complications for the woman behind the counter, for at least 30 minutes. There was a growing murmuring tension among the people waiting with me that threatened to boil over into an ugly mob action if Mr Complication didn't resolve his problem soon.

There was an audible sigh of relief when he finally concluded his business and number 431 was called. Now I am only one number away and feeling some hope that the butt cramp I have from sitting too long on those uncomfortable institutional chairs that only seem to appear in government offices will be relieved when I finally get to move. Of course I was worried then that my muscles would fail to respond in a timely manner when my number came up or that I would fall on my face when I tried to walk to the counter since I had waited so long that I would forget how to walk and then I would lose my place in line and have to start from the back of the line once more and my wife and children would forget about me lost in the black hole I had been sucked into.

When my turn finally came, I somehow managed to summon the strength and determination to walk upright once again and shuffled my way to the counter. I was debating whether to make some scathing comment about the ordeal of waiting so long, but the woman behind the counter had such a pleasant smile and ingratiating manner when she asked how she could help me that I believed she meant it, and all thoughts of complaining vanished into the sunshine of her smile. How she managed to maintain such a cheerful disposition in the face of all those angry people is a matter of speculation. I'm going with the theory that her breaktime was used to ingest a fistfull of happy pills. No normally sane person could be that nice and pleasant in such a job without some medicinal help.

Luckily my business was concluded swiftly and efficiently so that the people behind me were not tempted to rip me limb from limb for delaying them unnecessarily. My elapsed time spent in the bowels of the beast was actually only an hour and twenty minutes, though I could swear I passed another birthday there while waiting. And best of all, now I can once again park legally in the handicap spots at the supermarket and hardware store. But please don't begrudge me that privilege, since you know I will still end up in the longest and slowest moving line at checkout time.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

bushcake

I came across this last week on the washington interns gone bad website. I think it bears repeating.

George W. Bush’s Iraq War Freedom Cake
(extra rich recipe)


Preheat a gas oven to 911 F. In a small bowl mix together one unfairly selected president, a vice president with corporate ties and a neo-conservative agenda. In a large pan, take the grief from a tragic national incident and place on stove, turning heat to high. Scramble the truth and slowly add grief while whipping war on terrorism and axis of evil propaganda until firmly set. Carefully fold in lies and confusion. (For darker recipe, use a black National Security Advisor and Secretary of State to distract from racist implications of the war while placing AIDS, unemployment and the black community on a back burner.) Divide country and cut all dissenters of war into small pieces. Separate those who fit the war's racist profiling and freeze anti-war discourse. Drain international goodwill and taxpayer's money to fund war. (If you can't find any weapons of mass destruction, you may substitute the liberation of the Iraqi people instead.) Cover (up) all dead U.S. troops and Iraqi casualties while thickening combined batter with grandiose statements like "Mission Accomplished" and "Bring it On." Grease pans generously with oil from Iraq and cover finished cake with American and Iraqi blood.

Serves none.

By Max Gordon

Monday, August 27, 2007

back to it

The routine returns. Mary started the new school year today so the onset of our usual school year daily routine is on us. It seems like only yesterday that the summer began. Now here it is nearly Labor Day already and my golf game has not improved. I need more summer.

A few quick thoughts......last month we were complaining about the drought conditions around here and how low the lake levels were. Our lake is up about ten inches from where it was a month ago. Now, after two weeks of not just plentiful rain but torrential rains, some areas of Wisconsin are suffering through damaging floods and have been named federal disaster areas. FEMA is on the case, so naturally nothing will get done to help all those people who have lost their homes and businesses. Do I sound cynical? Prove me wrong, FEMA.

With all the abundant rain the grass is growing with impunity, daring me to try to keep up with it. I am fighting the good fight and will continue to hack down the rampant growth, even if it means cutting daily. I have my new lawn mower to help me so I feel confidant that I will soon gain the upper hand. The lawn hasn't been invented yet that I can't handle.

August has become wedding anniversary month for this family. I wonder if it is a genetic thing that we all chose August as the month for our weddings. Mary and I are married 38 years on the 30th (I think it's the 30th. I better make sure), son Jonathan and Katie are married two years today, and daughter Carrie and Jeremy are in their 3rd week of marriage. Maybe the phase of the moon has something to do with it.

I love this time of year for all the sports that are happening now. Football season is upon us, baseball is entering the crucial run uup to the playoffs, and even golf has started a playoff round of tournaments to end its season. We should have tickets to the Wisconsin homecoming game (haven't heard from the alumni association yet) and my friend Pete has somehow managed to get us two tickets to the UW-Michigan game in November. The Packers are looking good (they are undefeated so far , but then so is every other team). The Brewers are causing some vexation by losing more than winning and giving up their hold on first place in their division to the Cubs. But we all know the Cubs can't win anything meaningful so I am not too worried. And there are still two good months to play golf before the weather keeps us locked inside until April. Maybe my golf game still has time to improve. Positive thinking--that's the ticket.

Simple, but good, things to look forward to.......tomorrow I get to have lunch with my friend Rich. Haven't seen him in nearly a month. This weekend we get together with our group of eight lake friends for dinner and conversation. Next week Jonathan is coming to the lake to play some golf with me (he took a couple days vacation) and I get to help him paint his garage, too. What a full and exciting life I lead. Bet you wish you were me.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

bugs

On the drive to our lake cottage here in central Wisconsin today, I came to the realization that there are no bugs in California and way too many here in Wisconsin.

How did I come to this conclusion, you ask. Simple observation.

For the two weeks we spent in California driving all over the place, over a thousand miles worth, not once did we encounter a bug slamming into our windshield. Not a one. Nada. Not even a glancing blow. So there are two possible explanations. Either there are no bugs in California or the ones that are there are smart enough to avoid a speeding windshield.

Conversely, in the two hours it took to drive here today, the windshield on the van resembled a Jackson Pollack splatter made of the mashed mucous of innumerable smashed and slaughtered bugs. Again there are two possible explanations. Either all the bugs that should be in California have migrated to Wisconsin looking for our more congenial climate and there are so many of them that they can’t get out of the way of that speeding windshield, or Wisconsin bugs are too stupid to avoid that same windshield.

The net result of course is a messy windshield. Could that possibly be another reason to move to California?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

everyone's friend

Mary has the uncanny ability to connect with people, all kinds of people. No matter where we go she manages to meet and get to know anyone she encounters. People just seem to open up to her. They must sense that she is genuinely interested in them. I get a real charge out of being with her and observing her while she does that. I never get tired of watching her work her magic with total strangers who, after a brief few moments with her, leave knowing they have made a new friend. I don’t quite know how she does it, but it happens nearly every time we are in a situation where strangers might encounter each other.

Several times during our trip out west we met strangers in various situations who, when we parted, were convinced we were their new best friends, just because of the way Mary related to them. One day we were out for lunch when we entered a stylish place that only had room at the bar too seat us. So we sat down on our barstools next to an elderly woman who had just finished her lunch. Naturally Mary started a conversation with her and before you knew it, 30 minutes had passed by and we had the woman’s life history and had a few laughs. When she got up to leave she gave Mary a hug and a kiss on the cheek and remarked about what a wonderful person she was for taking the time to talk and get acquainted. Happens all the time.

There was a clerk at a local store in Oakland a few blocks from where we were staying who Mary encountered on her nearly daily excursion to that store. They became fast friends just because Mary would seek her out each day to tell her what we were doing that day so the clerk could give us directions on how to get there.

One of the kids’ (kids? They are married now) neighbors in the building where they live had been somewhat unfriendly for some time. Naturally Mary set out to rectify that situation. I don’t know how she did it, but that neighbor is now Mary’s best friend in the world.

While we were touring around Lake Tahoe we met an older couple who were doing the same thing we were, taking pictures and admiring the scenery. Of course Mary offered to take a picture of them if they would return the favor. Twenty minutes later we had two new friends from Michigan.

Our flight home from San Francisco was as smooth and easy as it gets. Mary made a new friend on the first leg of the journey home, spending the entire 3 hours talking with a young grad student from Iowa, who got off the plane in Kansas City. By the time the flight ended they had exchanged email addresses and promises to stay in touch. On the shorter leg of the journey from Kansas City to Milwaukee, Mary made another friend with the young man who took the seat vacated by the grad student. He was a native of Somalia who immigrated to this country with his family in 1999 and who was traveling to Milwaukee to go to school. After giving him as much information about our hometown as we could, Mary proceeded to mother the guy and advise him about all the things that mothers are concerned with. They talked about school (the teacher in Mary took over then) and laughed when he told stories about his learning the English language and some of the misunderstandings that come from language confusion. He speaks five languages and he is obviously a good student and a very respectful young man who will undoubtedly be successful in the future. By the time we arrived in Milwaukee, Mary had provided him with several lists of people, places, and job opportunities. Of course she gave him her email address, too, just in case he needed any help while he gets settled here in town while getting started with the coming school year. He was such a polite and caring young man that when he saw me with my cane and my struggle to carry my couple carry-on bags when we got off the plane, he just took the bags from me and insisted on carrying them and escorting us all the way through the terminal. When we parted he and Mary hugged as if they had known each other for years, not an hour. I got a very respectful handshake while he called me “sir.” I sincerely hope we hear from him again some time soon. He gave me a great sense of confidence in the next generation. If Mary wasn’t so quick to connect with people we never would have met and got to know that young man.

The flight attendant on our flight remarked to me about how friendly Mary was. I told her that given fifteen minutes she would have the life history of every passenger on the plane.

So beware. If you ever encounter my wife, you will give up all your secrets to her before you realize what you’ve done. But you will be happy that you did.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

our excellent adventure part X

Friday

The honeymooners have returned. We picked Carrie and Jeremy up at the airport around noon today. They had a wonderful time in Spain, but were glad to be home. Mary an I figured they would need some time to unpack and get reaclimated to home without having us getting in the way, so we hopped in the car and took the four hour drive to Lake Tahoe this afternoon.

Glad we did. The scenery on the drive here was spectacular. Every turn in the road provided another incredible vista. The long drive was so worth it. The sky up in the mountains was a deep blue that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. The late afternoon sun cast lengthening shadows that created more depth to the landscape. Driving from bright sunshine into a canyon created by shear rock faces and towering pines was like gliding from day into night. And when we rounded one of those turns and saw Lake Tahoe nestled between surrounding mountains, it was a nearly religious experience.

Now we are relaxing in a very nice hotel in South Lake Tahoe after getting a free dinner at a restaurant here. The freeby was a result of our order being “lost” by someone in the kitchen. The staff was very apologetic and solicitous when we mildly pointed out that we had been waiting a rather long time for our food. I suppose I would have gotten the same free dinner if I had ranted and raised a ruckus, but I feel so much better that the free dinner was their idea and not a result of my throwing a tantrum. We left there full and happy and now look forward to tomorrow and some more spectacular scenery before heading back to Oakland and catching up with the newlyweds.

Saturday

We toured the west shore of Lake Tahoe this morning before heading back to Oakland. The scenery was unparalleled in my experience. It was another cloudless day of bright sunshine and that ridiculously blue sky. We cruised slowly so that we wouldn’t miss anything and took enough pictures to fill the camera’s memory card. Then we made the long drive back arriving in time to spend the evening with Carrie and Jeremy.

We went out to dinner late and sat in a sidewalk café, eating gelato for an hour before dinner. Very European. The kids were used to that kind of schedule, having spent the past two weeks doing the same thing in Barcelona. Me, I was starving and ready to scavenge for crumbs on the sidewalk. But the long evening was a great chance to hear all about their trip and tell them about our adventures while they were gone.

Now we are sitting in the San Francisco airport waiting for our flight home. Our excellent adventure is nearly over. All we need is an uneventful trip home to bring it to a successful conclusion. I am ready for it to end and anxious to return home to a normal life again. Vacations are great, but home is better. Later……

We are home safely. More tomorrow about our trip home and the interesting people we met along the way.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

our excellent adventure part IX

My goodness there are a lot of grapes in Napa Valley. Everywhere you look the fields and hills are striped with rows and rows of grapevines. Driving through the valley today we were treated with the constant view of gorgeously maintained vineyards.

The wineries themselves (there must be a hundred of them in a 20 mile long stretch) each seem to be trying to outdo their neighbors with their buildings and landscaping. Fancy doesn’t quite cover it. Ostentatious seems about right. They are all trying to create a sophisticated ambience in an effort to make their wines seem more special than the next winery down the road. Several that we stopped at added snooty to their description. I sometimes felt like an intruder sneaking in where I didn’t belong and wasn’t welcomed.

Adding to the snobby air at some of the places was the hushed and reverent tones that the wine experts, both the buyers and the sellers, adopted when discussing the qualities of the wines they were tasting. They swirled and sniffed, delicately sipped, and then rhapsodized about the essence of the smoky flavor layed over a hint of berries and a distinct essence of old oak. Ok. My expertise runs more to identifying red from white and sweet from dry. Other than that, if it tastes good, drink it. If it tastes like last year’s vinegar, dump it in the potted plant and move on. The pretension displayed by some of those people is frightening.

We still enjoyed the day and managed to buy a couple bottles of wine that we liked when offered a taste. Of course we only sampled at the wineries that offered free tasting. Some of the places that offered tasting wanted me to actually pay them for the privilege. Some wanted fifteen bucks to gag me on their snake piss, and then wanted me to spend upwards of a hundred bucks to ransom a bottle of it from them. I don’t think so. They should be paying me to give them my opinion of their attempt at wine making, not the other way around. I can almost guarantee a thumbs up on any wine I don’t immediately spit out. Their $95 bottle of wine tastes pretty much the same as the $4 bottle of Cabernet I picked up at the grocery store last night. Pay me the fifteen bucks and your grandma’s moonshine would get a rave review from me. I’m easy to please. Just don’t rape my wallet in the process.

Aside from the financial aspect of winery cruising, I really enjoyed seeing the complicated process of creating wine from the newly planted vines to the finished bottled wine. It seems to be equal parts science and art. I am impressed by the amount of effort it takes to supply me with a bottle full of wine to share with friends and family. Just don’t ask me about the smoky berry and oak essences that are supposed to be there in every drop. Drink and enjoy and let the bullshit pile up in the room full of experts.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

our excellent adventure part VIII

A nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. Maybe not such a nice place to visit when you consider what it was built for. Alcatraz is both fascinating and frightening. And cold.

At 11:30 this morning we boarded the ferry that runs out into the bay and takes its passengers to the "Rock", as it is affectionately called around here. At the loading dock we were enjoying a nice warm sunshiney morning, wondering if we had needlessly overdressed in our sweatshirts. But once out on the water, the sun was dampened by a layer of high fog, and heavy breezes that dropped the wind chill into the forties made us wish we had worn our snowsuits. But we toughed it out on the upper deck just so I could get a few good pictures of both Alcatraz in front of us and the San Francisco skyline behind us.

Once on the island we were instantly engaged by the story and legends that hang in the air, giving ethereal life to the many souls that once inhabited this awful place. It's hard to feel sorry for the despicable criminals who were locked up in those dingy cells, but seeing those bars and touching those walls gave credence to the term "hard time." The cold that permeates the place is not just from the cold winds that blow across the bay, but also from the cold-blooded crimes that those cold-blooded criminals committed to get them locked up inside the frigid confines of this prison. If you listened closely you could almost hear the plaintive cries of the men who suffered through their time here. Prisons are supposed to be punishing, and this one was most certainly that.

The audio tour provided by the National Park Service was essential to understanding just how Alcatraz functioned. It provided the stories of some of the inmates and guards in their own words. Hearing those voices only made the atmosphere tht much more eerie and alive. I was fascinated by the hardships they endured while trying to put myself lin their place inside a 5'x9' cell of concrete walls and floor and ceiling. If ever there was a deterrent to crime, this place is it. I feel the need to return that pack of bubblegum baseball cards I swiped from the five and dime on the corner of twelth and Geele Ave. back in the fourth grade. I promise to be good. Please don't lock me up in this place.

As stated before, Alcatraz is a "nice" place to visit, but living there is out of the question. I'm glad I got the chance to experience it, if only from a tourist's detached perspective. It brought to life the realization that there are bad people out there who need bad places to keep them. Trust me, you don't wnat to be bad.

Monday, August 13, 2007

our excellent adventure part VII

The weekend provided some needed down time from all this vacation frivolity. We just hung out at the apartment for the most part. Mary got to exercise her cleaning fetish by attacking with her dustcloth and cleaning rags the corners and crevices that only she can find. I read and napped and took her out to lunch. Since cleaning and eating out for lunch (preferably alfresco--the eating, not the cleaning) are her two favorite things to do, she is mostly happy and content. She is easy to please most of the time.

Today it was back to exercising our tourist muscles. We decided to do a driving tour of some of the highlights of San Francisco. Our first destination was Chinatown. Ok, what’s the big deal? You’ve got about 16 square blocks of Chinese people milling around and scampering from shop to warehouse to restaurant. Only they know which is which because all the signs are in Chinese. At least I assume that is Chinese on those signs, but since I neither speak nor read nor write Chinese, I am left with the uneasy feeling that they are pulling a fast one on us. San Francisco’s Chinatown is ostensibly one of the largest concentrations of Chinese in any city outside of China itself, but I can’t shake the feeling that it is really a Disneyesqe creation meant to separate the European/American Caucasian tourists from as much of their money as legally possible. It seems to be working out well for our Asian brothers since they have enough of our money now to buy most of the rest of downtown San Francisco.

After leaving the Far East Pavilion of Disney World, we drove to the top of Telegraph Hill. The Coit Tower juts skyward from the top of this mound of rock and dirt. From the top of the tower ($3.75 just to ride the elevator to the top), the panoramic view of the entire Bay area is unequaled. Since I am too cheap to pay to ride an elevator, I only saw 95% of the Bay area from the top of the hill. Somehow I don’t feel cheated at all.

The high light of my day, and the part that left Mary with a permanent twitch, was the drive down Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world as they bill it here . This is the street featured in innumerable TV and movie car chases where the bad guys are too stupid to take one of the other straight streets to make their getaway. Five mph is the posted speed limit and that is a careening pace if you choose to dare going that fast. I was grinning ear to ear while twisting the steering wheel hard right and hard left while smoking the brakes. And that was just coasting. Mary spent the entire five minute ride hyperventilating and entreating every saint she could think of to help spare our lives. Her entreaties must have worked, or maybe it was my amazing driving ability, because we arrived at the bottom of the hill unscathed, with nary a dent in the car or my ego.

We then cruised the Embarcadero, a drive along the waterfront with a lot of buildings blocking the view of the water and big buildings that house rich people. Every major city has an area just like it, and we poor folk love to drive by and wish.

That was our day today. Tomorrow we do the Alcatraz tour to see where they housed the bad guys who stole the rich people’s money and then tried to get away by driving down Lombard Street. Go bad guys!

I promise a full report tomorrow.

Friday, August 10, 2007

our excellent adventure part VI

We've been busy. And somehow we keep spending more money. I guess vacations are like that. Everything costs more than you expect, and you spend money on things you would never consider if at home. And we haven't even bought any tacky souvenirs. I did buy a Cal sweatshirt, but I did need another sweatshirt so that doesn't count as a souvenir. And today I found myself at Pebble Beach and in need of another cap and towel for my golf bag, so it made sense to buy them with the Pebble Beach logo on them. Those aren't souvenirs, they're necessities.

Yesterday we gave in to our cultural urges and visited the de Young Museum. There is a decent collection fo modern art on display and the facility itself is first rate. We spent several hours there after having lunch in the museum's cafe and came away refreshed and satisfied by both the lunch and the art. We did succomb to the touristy lure of the tower at the museum that gives a panaramic view of the San Francisco skyline. I even took pictures like a proper tourist. Hey, no one is perfect.

Today we headed south, aiming the car at the Monteray Peninsula and the promise of some unforgettable scenery. We weren't disappointed. Once we escaped the freeway traffic jam we were rewarded for our persistence. The Monteray Peninsula's 17 mile scenic drive along the seashore was worth the trip. The fact that some of the finest golf courses in the country were along the way was a bonus for a golfaholic like me. Mary was incredibly patient with my drooling and swooning at the prospect of setting foot on the hallowed ground of Pebble Beach. Golfers among you will understand. For the others who are less golf centric, think of visiting the Vatican or maybe Notre Dame and you will better understand the feeling I had. I didn't get to actually play golf, but you willl never get to say Mass at Notre Dame either.

Since Mary was so understanding of my worshiping at the altar of golf, I felt it was only fair that I take her to Salinas so her inner English teacher could pay homage to John Steinbeck. We visited the Steinbeck Museum and she did her drooling and swooning. So for both of us the day was a rousing success.

Now, since I haven't been getting my obligatory afternoon nap, I am ready to swoon into bed and probably do some drooling on my pillow. All this swooning and drooling has worn me out. Later..........