Monday, April 30, 2007

moody weather

Is there any one aspect of our everyday lives that affects us more than the weather? This past weekend was beautiful--sunshine, warm, summery. Absolutely choice. So our mood for those couple days was just as sunshiney and warm. We reveled in the chance to be outside in our yard, cutting grass, planting flower pots on the deck, eating our meals outside. We smiled the days away.
I was looking forward to another day just like those last two, but somehow a thunderstorm managed to invade my world and put an end to those plans. So now here I am, stuck inside again instead of being outside playing, And my mood has become as cloudy as the skies. Woe is me.
When I become Emperor of the Universe, I am going to put a stop to al this weather uncertainty. No more will we have to be concerned about rain on our parades, our ballgames being canceled, or our picnics being soaked. When I'm in charge, the rains will only be allowed to fall from 2 AM to 4 AM each and every night, with uninterrupted sunshine all day everyday. That way the grass will always be green and the crops abundant and we will be able to play golf constantly without getting wet. Low humidity and gentle southerly breezes will keep us comfortable without hindering our bicycle rides or adversely affecting our golf shots. Spring will begin in March, Summer will last until October, Autumn will end at Christmas when a soft and sparkling new fallen snow will highlight the Christmas holiday. Winter will be short and to the point, occupying only January and February, exiting with nary a blizzard to hinder its passing.
All in favor of making me the omnipotent weather god and putting an end to our weather affected moods, point your folded umbrellas to the sky and sing "sunny days are here again!"
We can dream, can't we. On a thunderstormy day what else is there to do besides taking a nap and dreaming of lazer-like golf shots and made birdie putts under cloudless skies. Hey, it's my thunderstorm and my nap and I'll dream what I want. You're on your own.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Those of you who have been here before may remember this wall sculpture I did last year about this time for the wall above the door and windows at the cottage.

The wall opposite that wall and sculrture now has its own sculpture to add to the ambiance of our little cottage. The Blue Herons that frequent our shoreline and so beautifully decorate the outdoors inspired this piece. The Heron on the wall is looking toward the lake, watching for the chance to escape to the outside. But I have him securely nailed to the wall so inside he will stay.

I tried to capture some of the wary watchfulness that typifies the herons we see. Since we can't get very close to them outside, this sculpture gives a more intimate relationship with them. Besides that, it just looks nice.

I'm running out of wall space now. Don't know where the next sculpture will go. Dilemna.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

life's trains

While driving down a familiar street the other day, I had to cross a set of railroad tracks once again after driving across them many times in the past. There is nothing particularly remarkable about that other than the fact that I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually seen a train on those tracks. It was pondering that absence that triggered memories of long ago trains and their passing.

I can remember many times sitting in my car at a railroad crossing, cursing the bad luck that occasioned my and the train’s convergence at that particular time and place. In situations like that, the train always had the upper hand, being much bigger and incalculably stronger than my puny little car. So invariably I would have to wait for the monster to pass before resuming my hectic life. Sitting there hearing the clicking of metal wheels on metal rails and watching the swaying of the loaded traincars, worked its mesmerizing magic every time. Try as I might, I could never resist counting all those passing boxcars and tankers and flatbeds, with their cryptic markings, either loaded or empty, as they rumbled past.

Where have all those boxcars gone? Where are all those tanker cars and flatbeds now? Gone are the days when the distant rumble of mighty trains, the warning horn blast announcing its imminent arrival, meant that the treasures of commerce were on the move, all manner of wondrous goods being brought to market. I’m sure there are still trains hauling commodities across the country, but they just don’t seem to be as plentiful or to hold the same magic they once did. The trains that still roll along the tracks seem to be mere shadows of their former selves, shorter by dozens of cars and more run down and shabby looking. They appear to be truncated, abbreviated, pared down remnant of their former selves. edited down to bare essentials, the Readers Digest of trains.

The magic of trains first presented itself to me when I was 4 or 5 years old and we lived across the street from a main line of the railroad. The tracks that held the trains in check were planted atop a berm about fifteen feet high only about 40 yards away from our house. That close proximity made the passing trains almost larger than a small boy’s mind could comprehend. I was fascinated by those trains that sometimes roared past like an unchained beast, or that sometimes slithered along like a sloth on holiday. The only constant with all those trains was the whistle that always came before the train and the deafening horn blast that made a raucous announcement of the train’s imminent arrival across the street.

Even after witnessing many of those arrivals, I was never able to predict just when the next train was scheduled to invade my world. And even more confusing was that I never knew which direction the trains would come from. Those tracks knew no direction—they allowed trains to go either this way or that. It was a mystery to my young mind how the trains never seemed to crash into each other. If a train wanted to go south, no northbound train would stand in its way. What a miracle that seemed to me. I couldn’t fathom the reason for that, only assumed that God had a train schedule in front of him and made sure that no two trains ever tried to use the same track at the same time.

Living in a house so close to the tracks meant that we had an intimate relationship with the noise and vibration produced by those passing trains. And while sometimes the noise was nearly intolerable, like when the huge diesel engines, stained with the soot and oil of a thousand miles, were struggling to move the enormous mass behind them. Or at other times, when the train was floating by with effortless grace, the noise wasn’t noise at all, but a soothing background similar to the sound of waves on the shore or crickets chirping in the evening. The vibrations, too, caused by those tons of rolling boxes, had different feelings depending on when they arrived. During the day when we played outside those vibrations were a scary warning of the enormous power and danger riding along the tracks. But at night, when I was nestled under the covers, those vibrations, dampened by the journey through the ground, the concrete of the street, the walls of the house, and the mattress beneath me, were a humming lullaby tickling my limbs leading me to sleep.

Eventually we moved from that house to another house well away from the tracks and the disturbance of trains. I lost touch then with the magic and fascination that those trains had for me. I no longer waved at the engineer who always waved back, no longer heard the horn blast. I always thought that the engineer sounded his horn whenever he passed my house as a greeting just for me, but, of course, he was only signaling a warning to the next crossroad up ahead. Trains gradually became just something else that got in my way whenever I was in a hurry. And now they seem to have mostly disappeared from my life, the only reminders the abandoned tracks that still cross the streets.

So many of the old railroad right-of-ways have lost their tracks, their surfaces given over to pedestrians and bicyclists. So many memories and sensations have been lost with those long gone rails. And though I don’t much miss the noise those trains created, I wouldn’t mind once again falling to sleep to the rhythmic hum and soothing vibrations coming through the house from across the street.

So many trains have passed by in my life, receding into the distance down the track. With them go the magic of boyhood, the wonder at things huge and mysterious. As they fade into the night, they take along the memories loaded in those boxcars, leaving me with only vague feelings that life’s special moments are traveling away with them. Each boxcar carries away a moment from my life, never to be returned. All I can do, all anyone can do, is get on that train and ride it to the end of the line, enjoying the clickclack of wheels on rails, reveling in the swaying motion, and rejoicing in the horn blast as we pass each crossroad. All aboard!

Friday, April 20, 2007

another one

Here is the latest cane to emerge from the workshop. This one was inspired by something similar I saw on a television program a while back. The handle is carved oak.

The shaft is a fluted spiral of oak. It is a bit difficult to see in the picture. Hey, I'm a woodworker, not a photographer.

The finish is natural except for the darker stained areas that are carved out. I did that to emphasize the carving.

It looks heavy but is quite nicely balanced so it doesn't feel heavy.

I like the way this one turned out, so I think I will explore other carved handles for the next cane as well. I'm thinking maybe some kind of gargoyle for a handle. My mind is sorting out the possibilities even as we speak.

The other canes I've made and some other wood sculptures can be viewed if you like by clicking on the myflickr link at the right. Then select the sculpture set.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


No words that I can add to the torrent already expressed will make understanding this tragedy any easier. I have the same questions that everyone else is asking and none of the answers. I can only shake my head at the enormity of the tragedy and wonder how anyone could be so angry, so in despair, that any regard for life is removed from his consciousness.

The enormity of the massacre is compounded by the trauma experienced by those wounded and those in the line of fire who survived the attack, and who will have to live with the memories of that horrific day. The emotional scars will far outlast any physical wounds inflicted.

In a situation like this, we all want to lay the blame somewhere to make understanding and acceptance easier. But there is no one to blame but the shooter. No one could have predicted his actions. No one could have stopped it from happening without an enormous coincidental bit of luck. The randomness of his actions precludes laying blame on anyone for what happened. And that randomness means that the same thing could, and most likely will, happen again somewhere else.

The constant barrage of violent acts in our society, fed by the easy access to guns, the easy violence of video games, the nonchalant violence in movies and TV, has hardened us to the daily reports of death and mayhem that are the staple of the nightly news. And we will be less shocked the next time something like this occurs, and the time after that and the time after that because we have become so inured to the violence.

Right now some lunatic out there is planning the next assualt on us. He is stockpiling his guns, loading his magazines with bullets, fueling his hatred with misguided thoughts of persecution. He is looking for any reason to loose his mayhem on us. Any excuse will do. Any public venue--another school, a mall, a stadium, a theater--is a likely stage for his rampage. So no matter how vigilant we might be, no matter how careful we are, no matter how well we think we treat others, that lunatic will still have his moment in the spotlight, and we as a society willl once again pay the price.

We all know it will happen again and we are helpless to prevent it. While we mourn those who were victimized at Virginia Tech, we face the dread of knowing this isn't the last time something tragic and awful and unexplainable will happen. We can only hope and pray that we and our loved ones are not in the line of fire next time.

Monday, April 16, 2007

another voice heard

Allow me, somewhat belatedly, to weigh in on the Don Imus controversy. One more opinion isn’t going to make much difference, but at least I’ll get it off my chest and feel better for it.

I’ve never been a Don Imus fan, never listened to his radio show, and only know him by his reputation. Shock radio is not my thing, so I stay away from it. That type of show (Imus and Howard Stern being the best known practitioners of the genre) is way too sophomoric and intentionally “naughty” for my tastes. So when I first heard of the controversy surrounding Imus’s latest spew, my reaction was “typical Imus just being Imus”--so what.

I guess I have become so inured to the daily onslaught of nastiness masquarading as punditry that I am not surprised by any of the comments or “jokes” that emanate from the many media voices out there. It isn’t much of a leap from the sexual and racial bigotry of Imus to the trashing of contrary political and idealogical beliefs by the many social and political commentators who have daily forum for their opinions. Are the ravings of Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter any less insulting to a percentage of the population that disagrees with them than Imus’s slurs are insulting to nearly everyone? The subject matter may be different but the attitude is the same,eg, I can say what I want because I have the air time and if you don’t like what I have to say you can go to hell.

I understand the vehement reaction to Imus’s ridiculous comments. Racial and gender slurs are never acceptable. Insulting anyone is not what free speech is all about. Denigrating a person or group is not a protected right. What I fail to understand is how Imus was allowed to continue his trashy show for so long without there being an outcry before now. Surely in the past he has made stupid statements that were just as insulting and hurtful. But for some reason, (I suspect financial reasons are the common denominator), he was allowed to stay on the air and continue his onslaught against decency. But this time he crossed the line with both feet. And now he is finally paying for his insensitivity.

Will he be missed? There are probably some out there who listen to his drivel who are outraged that he is no longer their spokesman. Unfortunately, there is undoubtedly another idiot waiting in the wings for the opportunity to carry on his legacy of hateful nonsense. And there will aways be an audience for such crap.

The solution--turn off your radio.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

moving on

Now that we got that out of the way we can go back to worrying about cutting the grass instead of getting the driveway plowed. Winter's brief backdoor break-in is done. Unfortunately now the only way we will get to see daffofils is in a vase inside and not growing out in the yard where they were before they were so rudely interrupted. Mary had the foresight to gather these blooms from around the yard Tuesday before the onslaught so all semblance of Spring wouldn't be lost.

So now we are temporarily looking at this through the kitchen window instead of the greening of the bushes and the already green grass. With a few days of warmer temperatures all this will be just a blip in our memories of this Spring.

Those 8" of sloppy wet snow are already reduced by half this morning, so we know that by next week we will wonder what all the fuss was about.

Time to quit whining about the weather since we can't do anything about it anyway. Come summer we will wish for some of this cold and wet while we complain about the heat during the inevitable days of near drought in late July. There will always be weather, like it or not, so all our complaining is wasted energy. Let's move on.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

spring break

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Gee, kids, it’s Easter, let’s go outside and build a snowman. Here it is, April 7, and we awoke this morning to a light covering of snow here at our cottage in central Wisconsin. Ok, so there isn’t really enough to build a snowman, but there is more than enough to make it difficult to find all those Easter eggs that people have hidden out in their yards for tomorrow’s Easter egg hunt.

When we planned on spending Easter week here at our lake cottage, we were definitely counting on some reasonable spring weather, not this repeat of January. The temperature this morning was 4 degrees. Four feakin degrees!
What did we do to deserve this?

The golf course is supposed to be green, not white, at this time of year. If I tried to hit a golf ball in this weather the ball would probably shatter and my club would snap like a twig from the cold. That is, if I was crazy enough to even get the clubs out of the car. Even in yesterday’s 30 mph winds and numbing cold, there were a couple of real diehard golfers on the course. I love the game as much as most avid golfers, but I draw the line at suicidal cold. As much as I was looking forward to several days on the course this week, I will wait until I can go outside without freezing my own balls and not just those golf balls.

Naturally we had other outdoor plans for this week, too. But routine things like putting in the pier, transplanting some plants onto the deck planters, fertilizing the grass, and setting out the outdoor furniture will just have to wait awhile until Mother Nature decides to smile on us again. In the meantime we will spend our days here inside doing inside things like reading and watching movies and reading and writing and reading some more.

It could be worse. At least the cottage is heated. We will just have to avoid looking outside and getting depressed.

Easter Sunday

It is still unseasonably cold here, but despite the harshness of the weather, we are happy to see the return of many of the usual lake birds. I can’t help wondering, though, if the wonderfully warm and mild weather the past couple weeks duped them into an earlier than usual return to our little corner of paradise. Geese, ducks, a few noisy little types of songbirds, hawks and even some gulls are in residence already.

The most welcome of our bird neighbors are the Blue Herons that fish and graze along our shoreline and enthrall us with their incredibly graceful flight takeoffs and balletic soaring landings. I only hope that the tortuous cold doesn’t create any long term problems for those marvelous creatures. I may be wrong in assuming that they migrate southward for the winter and return here each spring. I am not well versed in the habits of Blue Herons, only pleased to be able to enjoy their comings and goings along our lakeshore. They may in fact stay here all winter, growing a thick coat of insulating feathers to protect them from the harshness of the season. Either way I consider their presence a true blessing. In fact I am working on a wall sculpture that features one those magnificent birds in a typical wary pose of watchfulness among the shoreline reeds. When it is completed and installed here at the cottage, I will share it with you and hope that it gives you some idea of what I am talking about when I rhapsodize about them.
Last evening we, the lonely parents, were treated to a phone call from our son, Jon and daughter Carrie, way out there in San Francisco. Jon and wife Katie went there for a long weekend and connected up with Carrie and Jeremy, who live in Oakland, for the day on Saturday, doing the usual tourist things and spending a great day together. It was such a pleasure hearing them laughing and telling us about their day that we momentarily forgot that we were here alone without them. In all the years past we have always had one or the other, and sometimes both of them, with us on Easter. So this was a departure from the norm and just one more reminder that kids grow up and move from under their parents’ wings. I guess that’s normal, but I don’t have to like it.

I am writing this jibberish on my new MacBook while I sit in my recliner, looking occasionally out the window at the cold and gray skies. Tomorrow I will venture into town to find a hotspot that will let me connect to the internet and post this for your consideration. Until then……….

Monday, April 9, 2007

Ok, I am officially confused. As I write this here in the cottage in my recliner again gazing out the window toward the lake, I see the sun shining brightly, if only for a moment, and a snow squall of biblical proportions trying to obscure that sun over the lake. If there is anyone who can properly explain this weird weather, please submit your explanations for my consideration. This is getting too strange to be anything but the Armageddon predicted by the prophets. Get your house in order, the end is near.

We did manage to get some of the aforementioned outdoor chores done today while the temperatures hovered a few degrees above freezing. But it wasn’t pleasant being out there. My nose is still running from the cold and my fingers are tripping on these keys since they have yet to warm up sufficiently. We did not get to town today as planned, so this missive will wait another day before you get to see it. That is if we can get to town through all the likely snowdrifts.

Damn my golf clubs are getting lonely out in the car.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Alright I admit it, we paniced. We listened to the weather forecast last night and got spooked by the prediction of 6”-8” of wet slushy snow that was likely to appear in central Wisconsin over the next two days. Even given the fact that the weatherman is wrong about half the time with his forecasts, we decided that we didn’t want to take the chance of being around for a likely snowstorm. So we packed up and loaded the van and headed on home this afternoon, running ahead of the predicted storm. This is not how we envisioned our spring break.

Last year during this same Easter week, we were on the lake in our kayaks and I had gotten in several rounds of golf. This year my golf clubs are still languishing in the van, unused, and not likely to see a golf course for a couple weeks yet, and the kayaks are still tucked away in the boat shed high and dry. For the past four days we have been asking ourselves why we didn’t head south for the week, where we would have at least a fighting chance for some warm sunshiney weather. Our optimism in finding that sunshine and warmth at the cottage was ill placed and we are kicking ourselves for being so trusting. Having lived in this area all our lives you would think we would know better than to trust Mother Nature. That old hag has done another job on us.

Wait till next year. I hope we have learned our lesson and will take off for warmer climes when Easter rolls around again. But then, the lure of the lake and its birds and other creatures exerts a strong pull on us at this time of year when all is fresh and new and full of promise. That is, when it isn't all covered with snow.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Allow me a father's lament. I know that we raise our kids to be worthy adults, to be proper citizens, self reliant and mature.
But then when they reach that stage of their lives and we are compelled to let them go, those parental attachments are difficult to cut. As parents we are used to being the all knowing problem solvers. We are accustomed to being the experts, the organizers, the take-charge-get-it-done-doers. So when they tell us that they have it under control and don't really need our help, we take the blow like a left hook to our pride and stagger back to our corner to lick our wounds. We have become superfluous.

Jonathan and Katie have bought their first house and are in the process of moving in. So far my son has allowed me to help just one day, doing some minor carpentry fix-it stuff and a bit of cleaning. He allowed his mother to spend that same day cleaning and shampooing the carpets. Since then alll my offers of help have been shunted aside. I feel so superfluous.

It's true, he may be sparing me the difficulty of all the physical work involved with moving furniture since my best physical days are behind me, but my supervisory and organizing powers remain undiminished and apparently unneeded. He has a large cadre of big, strong, YOUNG friends who are more than willing to help, so my presence would be in the category of in-the-way. I don't do in-the-way very well so it is probably best that I am not there to play that role. Still, I can't help feeling that I could quite possibly prevent him from making some wrong turns along the way by sharing my experience and extensive knowledge. But I guess he prefers to make his own mistakes along the way and presumably learn from them. So superfluous now describes me quite well.

I never thought it would come to this. My son has grown up and has taken charge of his life and is moving on through his adult life. Had I known this was going to happen I would not have let him grow up. I don't like feeling superfluous.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


While wandering around the workshop trying to focus on doing something constructive, meaningful, satisfying, my mind was also wandering off in random directions without a map or any particular destination. I guess that’s what they mean when they talk about random thoughts. Who are “they” anyway. But back to those random thoughts.

It occurred to me that there is a short hop from avocation to compulsion. I find myself at times compelled by an unknown force to at least spend time in the workshop, whether I accomplish anything or not. I just have to be there surrounded by my “stuff.”

Why is it that fundamentalist Christians always want to talk about their religious views. but don’t want to hear about anyone else’s? Or why do some Muslims feel that murder, terrorism and hatred are allowed in the Koran? Are there as many pedophiles among Protestant ministers as there seem to be among Catholic priests? Or is it just the publicity that makes it seem so?

What is the real purpose of Daylight Saving Time? And are we actually saving that daylight for use some other time? Are we getting caught up with or falling behind actual time? What is time anyway? When we see something bad happening, why can’t we just call a time out and avoid the peril?

Has anythng constructive, other than the US Constitution, ever come out of a meeting? The next time you are called into a meeting, call a time out and avoid the peril.

What’s the big deal with birthdays? So you were born. Big freakin deal. Most of us are born, live our lives, and die without leaving much of a trace. So what’s to celebrate?

Shoudn’t “Dancing with the Stars” be called “Dancing with the C Listers” or “Dancing with the B List Wannabes”?

Is it because Jack Bauer is on our side that he is not called a terrorist?

Why is it that whenever I am in a hurry to get somewhere all the traffic lights are red, everyone else seems to be going to the same place I’m headed, and all the 300 car freight trains choose just then to creep along past the crossing?

Why do otherwise normally intelligent people jump out of airplanes, climb mountains, refuse to acknowledge global warming, deepsea dive, claim to see UFO’s, bungee jump, vote for idiots, eat shellfish, BASE jump, believe in the supernatural, ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet, smoke anything, listen to rap, use cell phones in public places, talk rudely to waiters, drink and drive, cheat on their taxes, hang paintings on velvet in their homes, hurt a child, live in cities below sea level, try to speed fast enough to beat the train to the crossing, drive Hummers, keep snakes as pets... the list goes on and on. Feel free to add your own questions to the litany here.

I think now I will ljust randomly stop.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

too much going on

Time flies. The past week just seemed to whiz by nearly unnoticed. It's not that there was so much being done, it's just that there were enough different things going on that the usual activities were relegated to the back of the line. Things like blogging. Things like my daily hour set aside for writing. Time in the workshop. Even the usual househhold chores.

Why all the fuss? I got a new laptop, a MacBook, and I've been spending an inordinant amount of time playing with it and even getting a little frustrated with it. And helping Jon and Katie get their newly purchased house ready for the moving-in process has occupied my thoughts if not so much my actual energy. Plus the outside yard work has taken on the typical springtime urgency. And fighting with the cable company. Time, where do I get all that I need?

First the laptop. I ordered it online on Monday and it arrived already on Wednesday. I was pleased with the quick response. So here it is all shiny and new, virginal even, and I can't wait to get it fired up and get acquainted. Unfortunately, techy type stuff and I do not occupy the same world. Granted, Apple mkes things really simple for people like me for the most part, but there are nagging little things that I have been unable to resolve so far. Like email. I can receive it, but can't send it. I know it should be a simple matter of the proper configuratiion in the mail preferences, but what should be simple has turned into a "losing sleep over it" situation. Any help wpuld be greatly appreciated. Other than that annoying email problem, I am quite pleased with my new toy.

Then on Friday we got our cable bill. $252 dollars worth of cable bill. Needless to say, that is about $150 more than expected and caused more than a minor stir around here. I spent at least three hours so far over two days trying to get it straightened out and am still hanging somewhere in the nether regions of the unresolved. The weekend has intervened slowing the process. Monday will bring more phone time with my friendly customer seervice rep at Time Warner Cable. So far I have talked to three different people there and have had to explain the situation each time and still have not fixed it. Customer service? More like customer sodomizing. I will get this problem taken care of even if it means using nasty words and threats.

On Thursday Jon and Katie closed on the house they bought, so that new circimstance has now become the main event in the family, Yesterday we, Mom and Dad, spent the day helping clean and paint and doing the necessary pre-move-in chores that always have to be done when making such a life changing move. They actually have the whole month of April to make the move, but they really don't have as much time as you would think because of Jon's work schedule (he is an accountant and it is that time of year when he works long hours), so there is a certain amount of urgency to this weekend. Of course he will be occupied tomorrow with the Brewers opening day game (he's on vacation this week) which can't be missed, house or no house. And then they are leaving on a four day vacation on Thursday--which was planned before they bought the house--to go out to San Francisco to visit his sister,Carrie, and do some of the usual sightseeing. So suddenly what appeared to be a month long leisurely move has become a dance of quick stepping around all the distractions and obligations.

Take a deep breath and proceed witth caution. That is all I can do right now. I'll keep you posted.........