Thursday, May 31, 2007

what to do

There is just too much to do. Have you ever been faced with an overwhelming list of chores, maintenance, want-to-do things and have-to-do things? Trying to do everything that needs to be done, or that doesn’t need to be done, but that I want to do, is driving me nuts.

Understand that I am retired and that I have all day everyday to do all those things I’m complaining about. It’s just that when I am faced with so many choices about how to spend those days, I invariably end up doing little of anything. I can procrastinate with the best of them. I look at the things I have to do and figure there’s always time tomorrow for what I don’t get done today.

None of the tasks I’m talking about are urgent. I’m talking about routine, everyday stuff like yard work and housework. There is the occasional fix-it job that Mary insists I do now rather than later, but even those jobs are easily put off. None of this stuff is unpleasant or particularly difficult. Maybe that’s the problem. I need a challenge instead of a routine.

Adding to the problem of procrastination is the somewhat limited energy that PD allows me. I have to husband my energy and pace myself, knowing that after a couple hours of activity, I will need to give in and rest. Maybe even take a nap so that I can stay a bit more active into the evening. It’s those two or three hours a day when I can be productive that I’m talking about filling with all those chores.

The weather at this time of year adds to my indecision about how to spend my day. When it is nice outside I want to be out there enjoying it, so I try to do yard work or anything else that will keep me occupied outdoors. That means that the inside stuff gets shoved aside for the time being. Sometimes I hope for a rainy day just so that I can spend my time in the workshop without feeling guilty about not being outside. I have several sculpture projects in the shop that have been in various stages of completion for months now simply because being outdoors is more compelling.

I can just hear all you who work at your jobs all day and then come home and do all the household chores and yard chores and children chores cursing my whining. And you are right. I am whining. I should go and get busy now. Right after my nap.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

caught in the headlights

I should have seen it coming. I was deeply engrossed in a book (Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, about Lincoln’s cabinet) and wasn’t paying close attention to what Mary was saying. She said something about showing me what she bought that day. That should have raised a bunch of red flags in my consciousness, but my consciousness was preoccupied with that book. Then when she entered the room wearing what she bought that day, I was caught like that deer in the headlights you always hear about.

“Isn’t this nice? I bought it for the wedding. What do you think?”

And then the question that every man dreads.

“It doesn’t make me look fat, does it?”

Every guy knows that there is no good answer to that question. No matter what you say she will twist it into something that makes you look like the most insensitive, insulting bonehead ever to walk the earth.

“No, of course not. You look great.”

“You mean it hides my fat?

“No, no, that’s not what I meant. It doesn’t hide your fat. I mean, you don’t have to hide anything. I like the dress. You look wonderful in it. It’s perfect.”

“ You think I’m fat and ugly and this dress hides how hideous I am, don’t you?”

“You’re not hideous. The dress doesn’t hide anything. I mean there is nothing to hide.”

“Oh, so you think I have a terrible body that I shouldn’t even try to cover up because no one would look at me anyway, right?”

At this point I am trying to edge toward the door with the intention of taking a long walk on our short pier and falling into the lake and drowning myself. But she has blocked the door with her hands-on- hips stance, effectively daring me to make a move. I thought about maybe faking a heart attack, but she would probably just let me die at that point. I settled for a coughing fit brought on by a big gulp from my wine glass. She didn’t try to help me with a slap on the back or make any kind of helpful gesture. I figured she was waiting for me to turn at least a little blue before deciding what to do with me. When I didn’t choke completely, she turned on a naked heel and stormed into the bedroom only to reappear a moment later to hurl my pillow and a token blanket on to the couch. No explanation was necessary.

The sad part is, she did look great in that dress. She’s not the least bit fat. She always dresses wonderfully. I just haven’t figured out the right words to say in the right order to avoid a repeat of that scene the next time it occurs. I’m left thinking that she was really just yanking my chain to watch me squirm a bit. After all, she did leave the bedroom door open as a sort of invitation back into her good graces.

Monday, May 28, 2007

reprise

Our son, Jonathan, married Katie in August of 2005, nearly two years ago. That wedding was a highlight of all our lives. For Jon and Katie the specialness of the occasion is obvious. For the parents of the bride and groom the culmination of a good parenting job were on display for all to see, and that pride shined brightly that day. For me their wedding was particularly exciting and memorable because they chose me to officiate at the wedding ceremony. I got to perform the marriage rite for my son and his bride. What could be a greater feeling than that, to participate so closely with them on that very special day?

How about if I get to do it one more time? Not for Jon and Katie, but for my daughter Carrie and her long time companion, Jeremy. After sharing each other’s lives for nearly eight years now, they have decided that it is time to formalize their relationship with a wedding. And guess who gets to reprise the role of officiant? They have honored me by asking that I do for them what I did for Jon and Katie. I am absolutely bursting with happiness for them and deeply honored that they want me to share the day with them as I did with Jon and Katie.

Later this summer after Carrie returns from another research trip to Africa, we will be traveling to California for their wedding. My little girl is getting married.

Now excuse me, I have a wedding ceremony to prepare.

Friday, May 25, 2007

remembrance

Memorial Day weekend always stirs up particular memories for me. This post was first published last year about this time and I think it bears repeating.
bobology: flowers and memories

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

mountains

I had lunch today with my friend, Rich, and as usual the conversation was free ranging and uninterrupted. We managed a few good laughs between tackling the serious problems of the world.

As is our want, we lamented at one point the state of the world in general, and mused that if every individual endeavored to do something positive to reshape our world, the overall effect would be a tremendous accumulation of good. We posited that as individuals we are often overwhelmed by the daunting tasks that confront us in our efforts to change the world, but that an accumulation of individual efforts would move mountains.

It’s true that as individuals when we stand at the foot of that mountain of need, the task of climbing that mountain may seem overly arduous and nearly impossible. But as the saying goes, “every journey begins with one step.” So if we all begin that journey up the mountain with that first step, each succeeding step becomes easier to take, especially if we trudge up that mountain hand in hand with others making the same climbing effort. We all can make a difference even with our meager individual efforts, if we join hands and help each other over the obstacles in our way.

And while it is easy to give up, looking toward the summit that seems so far away, our continuing climb will eventually bring the results we want. Banishing war, famine, disease, and genocide may be very high mountains, but they are not impossible to climb. All it takes is that first step. And then a second and third and fourth until we no longer have to count the steps, but simply continue up that mountain until we conquer it.

So, come on, people, choose a mountain and start climbing. I’ll be happy to hold your hand along the way.

Monday, May 21, 2007

sunday walk

Sunday still at the cottage. Mary took tomorrow as a personal day, so she doesn’t have to go to work tomorrow. That makes for a much more relaxed Sunday evening. We seem to be the only human inhabitants left along our stretch of road, since most of the cottages and homes here belong to weekenders like us. They have all headed for home and work on Monday, while we get one more evening of relaxation in the quiet solitude their leaving has given us.

I just returned from my evening walk. Our cottage is located at the start of a deadend road which extends along the north side of the lake for just under half a mile. Walking to the end of the road and back is nearly a mile, or a substantial trek for someone like me who is slowed by Parkinsons Disease. It takes me about 35 to 40 minutes to make the round trip, depending on how energetic I am at the time. But there are substantial benefits to moving that slowly.

By strolling (ok, maybe shuffling is a more apt description of my locomotion) along at such a leisurely pace, I get to notice things that those of you who are faster would overlook. And I don’t spook the various wildlife inhabitants of the roadside environs as would you helter skelter,hellbent, power walkers. The squirrels and rabbits and other little critters note my passing without alarm, since they probably figure that anything moving that slowly poses no danger to them. So they seem to smile and nod to me as I pass and then go on about their critter business undisturbed. There are those other creatures along the way that choose to stay hidden from view, but I know they are there because my shuffling gait does not obscure the sound of their rustlings in the long grass and shrubs that line the roadside. The twittering of the birds and mating calls of the insects harmonize in a choir singing one of nature’s finest arrangements. I like to think their song is for my enjoyment alone, since I am taking the time to listen and appreciate the effort.

The colors of early evening, the sun just beginning its daily descent, are more striking in the contrast of lowered sunlight and deepening shadows. The leaves on the trees dance in the breeze, twisting from sun brightened yellow green to dark forest green as they turn and bounce the sunlight among themselves. The lowest plant life hugging the floor of the woods is already losing its sense of dappled green color, fading into the night version of green that is almost black. The crowns of the highest Maples wear the halo of the last bright rays of the setting sun, while I make my way back down the driveway to my door in the fading glow of the new evening.

How much did you notice on your evening walk? Moving slowly does have its advantages.

birthday saturday

Saturday at the cottage. It is windy, but warm, sunny but sometimes cloudy. The next door neighbors (our best friends) are here and happy hour is approaching. But the most significant thing about this day is that it is Mary’s birthday. She has been on the phone almost constantly, getting birthday wishes from her teacher colleagues and friends, from our son and daughter, and from people she didn’t expect to hear from. So she is basking in the warmth of those friendships and family connections.

I know it is considered rude to give a woman’s age so I won’t do that. But if you figure that she is celebrating her 29th birthday for the 30th time, you’ll be close if not right on. She and I are the same age (we were high school sweethearts, as corny as that sounds today), and we have been central in each other’s lives for 41 years. That’s a long time by anyone’s reckoning, but everyday I feel like we are just starting out again. And the best is yet to come.


So every birthday is special in that it celebrates another year we’ve been together and not just an age milestone. We are hoping and expecting to enjoy another 40 years together with the chance to sing happy birthday that many more times.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

verdancy

Yesterday was a day of nearly constant rain. The rain was intense at times and gentle but persistant the rest of the time. It was the kind of rain that promises a swelling of plant life with the next day's sunshine as encouragement. Today that sunshine delivered its promise and the landscape in my little corner of the world was bursting with a green abundance that only happens at this time of year when the leaves are all new and the grass is swollen with a succulent verdancy unmatched at any other time of year.

While out cutting the grass today, I was nearly struck senseless with the intensity of the green surrounding me. All the bushes are in full leaf, the trees have their freshest batch of fat new foliage, the grass is so thick and soft that it fairly begs you to wallow in its cushiony softness. Add to the visual delight the musky sweet smell of newly cut grass and you are on your way to what heaven must be.

If only we could bottle these sensations to be saved for the inevitable days of hot and dry late July. But like all other good things in life, they can only be experienced in the immediacy of the moment. That immediacy makes the sensory high all the more precious for its fleet passing. Knowing that the verdant green of the springtime abundance will begin to fade all too soon helps to etch the memory more deeply in our memory bank so that when those less amenable days inevitably occur we can recall those sensations and have reason to hope.

And hope is a good thing.

Monday, May 14, 2007

coffee anyone?

I have never been in a Starbucks. As ubiquitous as they are, I have never crossed the threshold of one of them. I seem to have an innate aversion to Starbucks for some unknown reason. The company is by all accounts a good corporate citizen of the world. The coffee it uses is produced in an environmentally conscientious manner. Its employees get benefits that many other businesses would not provide to less than fulltime workers. The products it sells are apparently meeting the demand of its millions of customers everyday. The fact that its products—coffee in its many variations and flavors—are overpriced in relation to other enterprises engaged in the same market doesn’t seem to deter its customers from spending whatever is asked of them. All in all, a very successful, profitable, growing, and well run business that is the envy of much of the corporate world.

So why do I get an uneasy feeling whenever I see a Starbucks store? Is it that there are so many of them with many more on the way that makes me cringe a little every time another one pops up out of nowhere? In Seattle, where the company originated, there are Starbucks stores within mere blocks of each other. There are now over 6000 Starbucks in the country and the aim is to have 10,000 or more within a couple years. Am I the only one who gets the feeling that Starbucks is taking over the world? Before long we are going to be either drowning in coffee and lattes or buried under a never ending pile of coffee beans awaiting shipment to the Starbucks next door.

I guess I just like the idea of buying a cup of coffee from a locally owned and operated business and not from suffocating behemoth that is driving out the local enterprises. Before long I expect to see only Starbucks and Wal-Marts end to end as far as the eye can see. Between the two of them they will control the world. Oh, wait a minute, they already do, don't they.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

engines and me

I was out cutting the grass, again, today when the mower started to falter and wheeze and labor under the strain. Experience has taught me that if I clean the air filter the wheezing will be replaced by the usual energetic roar. So I stopped and cleaned the air filter and all was well.

But what if it was a problem other than a clogged air filter? What if it was something like a carburator adjustment or some other esoteric engine malady. I am ashamed to admit that I would be still looking at a disabled lawnmower right now. I am not conversant with the mechanics of the internal combustion engine.

By admitting such a shortcoming I may have to give up my place in the Macho Brotherhood of Guys. Somehow I never got the memo about the need to be knowledgeable about cars and engines and motors and things mechanical that go zoom and make lots of noise.

There have been numerous occasions, when in the company of other persons of the male persuasion, that the conversation would inevitably turn to cars and their mysterious ways. At such times my eyes would glaze over and I would simply nod occasionally to show I was part of the conversation, when in fact I was desperately hoping to die before I was asked for an opinion about the horsepower or number of cylinders under the hood of my “ride.” Perhaps I am missing the mechanic gene that seems so prominent in other guys. I have never been even remotely interested in auto mechanics. Engines are greasy and dirty and smell bad (sorta like the guys who work on them). I have no clue what makes those engines work and no idea what a carburator does or why the number of cylinders is so important or why dual exhausts are cool and, God help me, what a Hemi is.

Don’t get me wrong, I love cars and love to drive them. But my love is restricted to the aesthetics of the machine and the freedom that driving affords me. Many cars are truly beautiful and I love going fast in them and feeling the responsiveness of the machine to my touch. Just don’t ask me why the machine responds to my touch or why it is able to go that fast. My depth of understanding of the automobile ends with that key thingy that starts the engine and the function of the two pedals at my feet that make it go and make it stop. Other than that, I only know that I have to aim where I want to go and the car will take me there.

While I can cope with a balky lawnmower on those occasions when only the air filter needs cleaning or a spark plug needs to be replaced (what does a sparkplug do anyway?), when it comes to that much bigger engine in my car, it is strictly hands off. I’m not even quite sure how to raise the hood. But then I figure I really don’t need to know as long as there is a mechanic’s branch in the Macho
Brotherhood of Guys.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

dandelions

Like most suburban residents with lawns, I see dandelions as pesky, prolific, uninvited and unwelcome intruders in my landscape. In other words--weeds. My immediate reaction on spotting one of those nasty little parasites is to stromp, dig, grind, poison and annihilate it as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. I never met a dandelioin I didn’t like.

And then I thought, to better understand my enemy and learn all about it and its weaknesses and vulnerabilities, I should do a bit of research. So I did. And it turns out my lawn’s archenemy isn’t all bad. It actually has some redeeming qualities if you look hard enough to find them.

Did you know that the dandelion is not native to North America? It was brought here by some well meaning farmer,probably an Englishman, who thought it would make a beneficial and profitable crop. And in some areas it is grown as an edible plant, cultivated and harvested like any other leafy vegetable. Granted, it has not caught on with mainstream consumers, but those wild and crazy vegetarians and vegans can’t get enough of the stuff. Supposedly dandelion greens make an excellent, though somewhat bitter salad. Mixed with other salad greens you would never know that it came from your neighbor’s lawn.

Certain medicinal properties are attributed to dandelions as well. Various decoctions that include the dandelion’s leaves and roots when mixed with other natural substances, boiled and strained, and then boiled again and
served up by the hearty gulp or concentrated spoonful depending on what ails you, are from the realm of folk remedies. But those with gallbladder and kidney and liver ailments who have been treated with dandelion medicine have claimed curative responses that can’t be ignored. It’s just that when I think of using anything derived from dnadelions or other plant species, I picture the concoction served by a witch doctor in full mad-masked regalia accompanied by rattles of snake bones and lots of jumping around in feather trimmed loincloths. I’ll stick with antibiotics and Pepto Bismal, thank you.

So while I have learned probably more than I wanted to know about those little yellow flowered lawn ornaments, and have gained an apreciation of their possible usefulness, I just can’t stop myself from declaring all out war against them when they appear so rudely. To that end I have dispatched mercilessly those unwanted and uninvited intruders that found their way into my lawn. I don’t apologize for that. After all, any plant that is out of place can be considered a weed. And weeds are fair game for annihilation. So annihilate them is what I did. I figure if I ever need a cure for gallstones or want to liven up a salad for vegan guests, I can just go next door to my neighbor’s yard and harvest a handful of his crop. But my lawn will remain unsullied by yellow spots or the spiked leaves of lawn enemy #1 as long as I am capable of digging up or poisoning the unwelcome dandelion.

And curses on the moronic farmer who brought the dandelion to North America. I hope his grave is choked by a smothering blanket of his folly.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Saturday

Low scudding clouds, near white at the horizon deepening to gunmetal gray overhead, are effectively blocking a warming sunshine from heating up my shaking hands. A steady and stiffening breeze from out of the far north, where it is common and even welcomed, is chilling the new leaves on the trees and cooling the springtime warming of the lake. It’s one of those days when everything inside and out is tinged with gloom.

I had been looking forward to cavorting on the golf course today, but the weather gods have effectively put an end to that notion. Now instead of stroking perfect seven iron approach shots to the middle of the green, I’m hunkered down inside, languishing on the recliner and not speeding down the fairway in my cart chasing after that shiny white golf ball. The possibility of hauling the kayaks out of their winter storage was bandied about before we realized that we would require too many clothing layers to be comfortable outside and that those layers would preclude any movement of a kayaking nature. So they will remain under cover for another week awaiting more propitious conditions. And the golf clubs will not need to be cleaned again.

On the upside, I can get caught up on some reading. I can initiate happy hour perhaps a bit earlier as a way to brighten the day. I can use this time to maybe finish, or at least push along toward a satisfactory denouement, the shortstories that have piled up on the desktop. Or I can simply give in to my slothful nature and turn on the TV and watch this week’s golf tournament while noshing on salty forbidden snacks washed down by copious gulps of cheap red wine.

Yeah, I think we’re getting somewhere now. Snacks and wine and televised golf. What else could be a better counter to a cold, gray, windy late spring day? Sloth it is. The other 6 deadly sins will have to wait for another day.

Friday, May 04, 2007

weekend

The deck is watersealed, the plants are planted, the grass is cut, so we are off to the cottage for the weekend. I hear the golf course calling my name. And the kayaks need to feel the lake once again. Sunshine is ordered but not promised. All is good for now.....Except that while I was cutting the grass today I counted 7 (SEVEN!) dandelions in the backyard. This is getting out of hand and will require drastic measures when we get back home. I'll try not to let it ruin my weekend.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

baseball

Is there any sporting venue more appealing than a Major League Baseball field? The brilliant green grass, the perfectly powdered infield, arrow straight virginal white foul lines, and a pitcher's mound scaled to exacting specifications all contribute to the cathedral like solemnity. That all that solemnity can be scarred by dashing, diving ballplayers, and screaming fans witnessing their onfield playmaking, only makes it more appealing. We don't mind the gouges put into the field by those players as long as the effort that produced them contributes to the spectical and adds another chance to score a run for the home team. Besides, there are always grounds crew minions ready to erase those scars and return the field to its required perfection.

I had the good fortune to witness a MLB game last evening at Miller Park here in Milwaukee and, as it does every time I get there, the ambience of the stadium and perfection of the field stirred in me a feeling of reverence first, and then awe. That we provide such elysian fields, and indeed find it necessary, for our athletic heroes to toil on, speaks to the sense of wonder and respect we have for those sporting adventures. A major league baseball field is the ideal that all boys, no matter their age, dream of playing on at least once in their lives. Any Little League ballplayer who ever swung a bat or fielded a grounder or chased down a deep flyball to center wonders how it would feel to do those things on a perfectly groomed field in front of thousands of apreciative fans. Dreams are made of stuff like that. And dreams are what keep the fans returning to witness more of those ball games where they project themselves by proxy onto the outfield grass and infield dirt. And dreams require perfection, so that is what the fans get when they enter the cathedral of sports, the big league stadium, where every blade of grass stands tall and straight and every grain of infield dirt is sized exactly right.

I doubt that there is any kid, and I include every baseball fan in that group since baseball keeps the kid in all of us alive, who wouldn't pay any price asked by the devil for one at bat or one inning at shortstop on such a field. The chance to play just once where major leaguers play is the baseball fan's heaven. Mountain climbers have Everest, golfers have Augusta National, football fans have Lambeau Field and baseball fans have Wrigley or Fenway. The venues in which we worship sport are sacred ground that inspire the requisite awe and keep us coming back again and again for another dose of perfection. Some might consider that misguided passion, but I think any place that can stir our quest and appreciation for perfection is worthy of our attention. So I, for one, look forward to my next opportunity to enter into that special place where boys can dream boys' dreams and the crack of the bat and slap of the glove and cheers of the crowd are the hymns of reverence.

And, oh yes, the Brewers beat the Cardinals 12-2 on a barrage of hits in the fifth and sixth innings that aroused the joy of the fans and elicited a virtual caucophony of reverent hymn singing. Can I get an amen.