Monday, December 29, 2008

more from the workshop

Here are some pictures of the latest objects to come out of the workshop. I've really enjoyed making these little boxes. They are pleasing to the eye and are functional. I'm going to stop making boxes now for awhile since I have a number of other ideas I want to pursue. But I know I will come back to the box as an expression of beauty, form, and function. I already have a few ideas bouncing around in my head for some new and different shapes for them, but it is time to do some other things.

This round box is made of oak, maple, and mahogany and is 4" round and 2" deep.

The top pivots open.


This rectangular box is 5.5" x 3.5" x 2" deep. It is made of oak, mahogany, and purpleheart.

The top pivots open.


This round box is 4.5" in diameter and 2" deep. The top swivels open.

It is made of oak, cedar, padauk, and purpleheart.


Here is a freeform box that is about 5.5" long and 2.5" deep. it is made of oak and mahogany.

The lid swivels open.


If you want to see more pictures of these boxes and the other work I've done, just click on "gallery" in the sidebar and it will take you to my other site called After the Sawdust Settles. Thanks for looking.

seasonal thoughts

So here we are, nearly through the holiday season once again. As holiday seasons go it has been nice but nothing special, enjoyable but not overwhelming. And there in lies the rub as the Bard would say.

Most people feel like the holidays have to be a super special time of the year, when the world shines with goodness and light and men exhibit goodwill toward each other. Everyone strives to achieve that illusory holiday spirit, whatever that is. The usually taciturn become gregarious, the cynical become angelic in their search for that feeling of good cheer. For the few brief days that define the holidays for the majority of us, we end up living a lie and convincing ourselves that we are truly filled with the Christmas spirit.

The dutiful giving of gifts is particularly grating. It’s the dutiful part that irritates me more than anything. The idea that you have to give gifts that most often you can’t afford to give and the recipient really doesn’t want, perverts the very idea of gift giving. I love to give gifts, but only when it is my idea and when it is least expected. The anticipation of gift receiving and giving under such controlled and demanded circumstances takes any joy out of the process for me. I guess I would never play a convincing Santa.

Another pet peeve of mine is the appearance of the once-a-year do-gooders who crawl out of their comfy circumstances to stroke their own need for demonstrable goodness. You know the ones I’m talking about: those who serve Christmas dinner to the hungry, those who provide an evening’s shelter for the homeless, and those who provide unneeded toys instead of clothing for the poor children. Once the two week holiday season passes once more, the hungry still need to eat, the homeless still need shelter, the poor kids still need clothing and heat and food while those toys lie unnoticed on the floor in the corner.
But for some reason those needs don’t seem so urgent once the twinkling lights go out. I guess for those once-a-year types, it is possible to store up enough “feel good” to last until the next holiday season arrives. In he meantime, the everyday providers are left to carry the load throughout the year, to try to stretch the help they can give until the next round of seasonal do-gooders take all the credit.

I know it’s better to have at least a couple weeks of that good holiday spirit to share and spread among all those who are willing to accept it and participate in the seasonal festivities. Of course the ideal would be to carry that spirit throughout the year, but I guess we will have to settle for what we can get. So merry Christmas, happy new year, and see you all next year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

winter forecast

This just in from the front page of the local paper: yesterday we had nearly 5" of snow, with up to 12" expected for Thursday/ Friday, then Saturday comes along with another possible 4" followed by an anticipated 5" on Sunday. And next week even more is on the way. Yeah, I get that people like a white Christmas, but a whiteout Christmas? You can have my share of it. I don't want it.
When ever I protest too much about the weather here in Wisconsin, people tell me to quit the whining and move to a more salubrious climate. But obviously that is not so easily done. This is where our home is. This is where we grew up. This is where our children grew up. This where all the memories were made. This is home. And even though we know that every year winter will bombard us with snow and cold, it just doesn't get any easier.

Actually I think that the whining and complaining about the weather makes it a bit easier to tolerate. When we encounter people out and about, all bundled up, heads hunched down into their coats, hats and gloves and scarves wrapped tightly to fight off the wind, we nod and smile knowingly at each other, convinced that we can survive anything that Nature throws our way. And when we do speak to each other, the weather and its ferocity is always the first topic past our chapped lips. So allow me my whining. Allow me my complaining. Allow me to survive the harshest of seasons with a little tolerance for my intolerance of the conditions outside.

After all, this too shall pass. Then when summer arrives all the complaining about the cold will be forgotten in the whining about the goddamn heat and humidity.

repeat

It's the Christmas season so here it is one more time.

TWAS THE DAY BEFORE XMAS

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

boxes

I've been on a box kick lately. I just love the endless design possibilities that the simple concept of a box provides. So I am exploring some of those possibilities.
This first box is actually a box in a box. It is made of oak, maple, walnut, and pine pieces that were glued up into usable stock that was then cut up into the pieces that make up the box.

The larger box is 9" long x 5" wide x 3.5" deep with a lid that lifts off.

The smaller box inside is 5" x 4.75" x 2"

I suppose the logical use for such a box is to hold bits of jewelry. I know that because Mary has already apppropriated it for just that purpose.

This little box is made from the same glued up stock that the last one was made with. It is 8" long x 3.5" wide x 4" high. The top lifts off.


This one is again using the same glued up stock as the others. This time the top pivots open in two directions. It is 8" long x 3" wide x 3.5" deep.



I still have more of the same stock left --enough for one more box which is nearing completion on the workbench right now.
I'll have pictures of that one soon along with a couple other little ones that I can't show you now because they are meant as Christmas presents. All in due time.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

cry uncle

Winter wonderland, my ass. Winter nightmare is more like it. Here we are only just getting used to the fact that it is December and I’ve worn out a snow shovel already. It seems that it has snowed every other day so far this month and the all knowing seers and prognosticators on TV with their fancy weather maps and gleeful look in their eyes are saying that more of the dreaded white stuff is on the way again. So I’m crying “uncle” already. Give me a break. I do not want to suffer through an endless whiteout for the next four months or so.

I understand that some people actually like this kind of weather. They jump into their long underwear and happily slip on their boots and rev up the snowmobile or wax their skis and joyfully dive right into the snow. Freaking idiots. No sane person would willingly spend time outdoors in the winter. That’s akin to those fools who willingly jump out of perfectly good airplanes for the fun of it. Morons.

No, I will spend the vast majority of my time for the foreseeable future comfortably warm and cozy in my recliner with remote at hand and scnaaps to heat up my insides. The only reason I will have to venture outside is to clear the driveway of snow so that the ambulance can get to me when I have the heart attack from shoveling the snow in the driveway. God, get me through this.

Monday, December 01, 2008

one more time

It’s December 1st, the Christmas decorations are up, the lights are lit, and the first big snowfall of the year is here, so winter has officially started.

Every year we promise ourselves that we won’t go overboard with the decorations, but once the Christmas season officially starts on the day after Thanksgiving, it seems that some genetic pulse intensifies and we break out all the old seasonal flotsam and put it in the usual places around the house, inside and out. That wouldn’t be so bad by itself—there are some treasured decorations that can’t be left hidden away—but when you start adding to the collection each year by buying something new to spruce up the décor, then eventually you have a problem. Mary is particularly susceptible to the adding syndrome. She has a decorator’s fetish about always adding something new and, to her, exciting to the mix. Yet she never throws anything old and worn out away (personally I should probably be happy about that) so the pile just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

We have enough Christmas trees around here to make a small forest proud. And yet, this year she managed to find a couple more that she just had to have to place on the front porch where they can add their lights to the twinkling garlands and wreath already there. Inside we have trees in a variety of sizes that seem to grow in every corner, all with their own set of lights and shiny ornaments. At sundown, when they are all turned on along with the wreaths in the windows, the Christmas village houses with their windows alit, the lighted garlands twisted around the stairway ballisters, and the many candles both lit with real fire and those that just artificially pretend, this humble little house of ours rivals the Vegas strip for excessive electrical consumption. Dark glasses are suggested but not required. And while I sort of like all the little trees with their happy shinyness, the one little tree that stands near the TV and cuts off the left side of the picture is going to feel the wrath of my chainsaw before long.

So despite all the grumbling about how much work it is to go through this decorating nonsense each year (and no small amount of cussing and swearing at those damn lights that won’t work just because one little bulb is balking), we still do it. I have to admit there is some joy to found in all the klitch, even if it is the just the satisfaction when it is all put away once again at the end of the holiday season. In the meantime we might as well enjoy our handiwork and look forward to next year when we can add some more to the collection.

Friday, November 21, 2008

cane box

I have accumulated a number of canes (as you are well aware from my posting pictures of them here over a period of time as they were completed), and needed a way to store a few of them instead of just leaning them against the wall. So I made this box to do just that. And since making just a simple plain box is against my nature, I made it pretty and interesting even without the canes in it.

It is made from oak, cedar, and pine and stands 24" high. The decorative organic growth extends the overall height to 38".

It accomodates a half dozen of my canes so I haven't completely solved the cane storage problem, since I currently have nearly a couple dozen of them. I may have to make several more of these boxes before I'm done. Or maybe I should just stop making canes after I complete the one that is right now standing on the workbench awaiting a finish. Stop making canes? Not going to happen, since I have several more ideas for new canes bouncing around in my head.
If you have forgotten what they all look like or are new here, you can see them here or you can click on "gallery" in the sidebar and then click on "canes."
I have been asked in the past if I sell my canes. I won't sell any of the personal canes I have since I use them on a regular basis, but I will be happy to custom make a cane for you if you arre interested. Just email me at bobciz@gmail.com and we can talk about it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

here we go again

The leaves have all finally fallen and been blown by Mother Nature or my leaf blower into the gutter for pickup by the city crew or into the neighbor’s yard and beyond. I’ve staked the edges of the driveway so when the inevitable snow starts to pile up the snowplow driver will know where the driveway is. The lawnmowers have been winterized and tucked away for the winter, the snowblowers having taken their spot in the front row, ready to go. The air has that near nip that promises worse to come. And today there are a few snow flurries in the air testing the atmosphere to see how they might survive.

If I could curl up n a nice warm cave, living off my stored up fat for the next 4 months or more, I would gladly do so. But there are no caves nearby that might accept me and I am too skinny to survive for long anyway. So the only reasonable choice is to face the coming winter with resignation and a hopeful eye out for April. I’ve done it before (too many times, actually) and I can do it again.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

getting caught up

It has been sometime since I've shown pictures of the sculptures and canes and other stuff that I've completed over the past few months. So I'll get you caught up on the output of the workshop now since I know you have just been dying of curiosity to see what I've been up to.

First in line is this little vase that is made from a bunch of scraps that accumulated on the workbench. It is a variety of woods and stands 13" high and is 1.5" square.



Next a couple of canes. This one is called Striped cane. The shaft is maple and walnut and the handle is striped with maple, walnut, and purpleheart.



This one is called Spiral cane because the pieces of mahogany, maple and oak form a spiral down the shaft. The unique handle is oak and maple.



Now a couple sculptures. These two pieces took a long time to complete since they are fairly complicated in structure. But the effort and patience paid off.
This is called Unraveled. It is several strands that twist and tumble into a jumble. It stands 28" high and is made from several hundred pieces of pine that were glued together to create the strands.



This piece is called Whirlwind. It is made from nearly a thousand pieces that swirl round a central shaft. It has a real kinetic energy to it. It stands 36" high and mostly oak and pine.



And that does it for now. All caught up. Now I can concentrate on the three new wall sculptures that I have started and a new cane that is nearing completion. I will post those pictures in due time. If you want to see more of my work go here. Thanks for looking.

Friday, November 07, 2008

OUR President

Seeing the excitement and elation on the many faces of the Obama supporters on election night was a joy to behold. In the many presidential elections I have witnessed in the many years of my adulthood, there has never been a contest that so galvanized the citizenry as this one. I can’t recall any election that stirred the interest of so many divergent elements of our society as this one did. The most encouraging thing is that all those different groups that make up our melting pot society could come together in common cause and agree so wholeheartedly about a candidate.

Now having said that, I have a concern that because Barack Obama isn’t your typical old white guy we so commonly elect, he may be seen as more a savior than a President. And while I can appreciate the many African-American faces with tears of joy freely running down their cheeks, I am getting a bit annoyed that those African-Americans are claiming President-elect Obama as uniquely their own.

I, for one, never considered Senator Obama as a Black candidate. His racial background was noted in passing and then relegated to the deep back reaches of my consciousceness. I supported him because what he had to say about the issues before us resonated with me. I considered him the best man we could possibly elect to the demanding office of the Presidency. I like his intelligence and calm and reassuring demeanor and the studied way he approaches the problems we face. I like the fact that he is able to see the consequences of decisions made now on the future, always looking several steps ahead. I like his commanding presence. He seems presidential to me. He doesn’t seem African-American. He seems American. He is the President for us all, not just for, or especially for, only one segment of our society.

So please don’t apply an unnecessary label to him. He may be the first multi-racial man to be elected to the office, but he transcends any racial label that is attached to him. He is the President for us all.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

finally

Finally it’s finished. Finally we can get back to normal. Finally we don’t have to put up with any more political ads. But in the two days since the election I find myself in a kind of withdrawal that is hard to define.

For the past two years we have been subjected to a nearly constant barrage of political advertising that sought to garner our support for one of the various candidates. Those ads in turn amused and then sometimes enraged us. We could only shake our heads at the hyperbole and misrepresentations, the twisting of words taken out of context, the accusations of wrong-headedness and even malfeasance, and the wrongful claims of consorting with undesirables (like other senators and terrorists). We chose sides and believed what our side had to say about the other side’s inadequacies and deficiencies. But through it all we never wavered from the belief that the process, flawed as it may be, worked.

While the campaigning was going on you would have thought that the two candidates were the worst of enemies. They said and inferred some vile things about each other. But once the contest was over, shaking hands and promising support and cooperation to help make the promises of the campaigns a reality was the gracious end to the sometimes bitter fight. Where else in the world does such an orderly transfer of power in the government occur without actual bloodshed. Where else in the world do the citizens of the country actually have the privilege to select their leader. As a voting citizen I get a tingle of excitement and satisfaction whenever I exercise that right to vote. Tiny though it may be, I know my voice is heard, and that gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

So now that all the excitement has died down, what will replace it in our daily lives? What will fill all that advertising time on TV now that there is no more mudslinging to be done? The chance to catch our breath now that the election is over is a welcome respite before the next onslaught of punditry and analysis of the job being done by the new administration takes place. This has been merely round one of the ongoing fight to bring about all the change that was promised. There are still many more rounds to go in the fight to get us back on track.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

two weeks and counting

Two weeks and counting. That’s all we have left to endure in this current presidential campaign. It’s highly likely that those citizens who intend to vote have made up their minds and are not going to be swayed from their choice, barring some unforeseen catastrophic blunder by one of the candidates.

For some reason I have confidence that this time we will make the right choice. After all, we have just barely survived eight years of stumbling, bumbling bumpkin in the White House, so anyone other than another Mortimer Snerd would be an improvement. The biggest question then becomes, do we want a real change in the office of the President or do we want a return to the status quo of current policies?
The so-called “leadership” we have experienced under the Republicans for the past few years has shown itself to be largely ineffective and even dangerous to our national health. We can’t keep swallowing the same pill that’s proved ineffective and expect to get better.

On one side we have an elderly curmudgean hothead who insults us by choosing as his running mate the lowest common denominator among a plethora of more worthy and reasonable choices. (Perhaps if you try to put lipstick on a pig, you still have a pig. And if you put lipstick on a pitbull, you still have a vice-presidential candidate.) A candidate whose military background makes him see that avenue as the first choice in handling a crisis. A candidate who sees our military commitment to an illegal war as never ending. A candidate who thinks market forces will straighten out the economy when market forces are what got us into this mess in the first place. A candidate who wants to make sure that Big Business gets lots more tax breaks and incentives to continue its rape of the economy. A candidate who would give us a lousy $5,000 to buy health insurance when the actual cost of that health insurance is likely to be 3 times that much, and then has the audacity to tax us on that 5 grand gift. A candidate who likes to emphasize his honor and integrity and patriotism and then runs a campaign that blurs that honor by offering endless slurs and mud slinging to try to keep the focus off of his inability to address the issues. Honorable? Not hardly. Presidential? Not likely.

On the other side we have a candidate who really does bring something new to the forum. An unashamed intelligence and calm demeanor and studied approach to the problems we face are all attributes that I find refreshing and desirable in my president. While he has been characterized as elitist for that intelligence, isn’t it refreshing after 8 years of excrutiating intellectual mediocrity to know that we have a chance to try a different path? Isn’t it refreshing to have a candidate who really wants to change the status quo and has the viable plans to do so. This candidate had the good sense to choose a running mate who is in fact qualified to step up to the presidency if that should be necessary. He has a workable plan to fix the health care crisis in this country. He has a solid plan to extricate us from the mired down war in Iraq. He has a first reaction that emphasizes diplomacy over guns in foreign relations. He has an economic plan that will reward businesses that stay here and hire American workers instead of chasing after the cheap and exploited labor overseas. He has the common decency to not participate in the negative campaigning of his opponent. All these qualities and proposed solutions to our problems point to a candidate that has the makings of a truly fine President. Honor and integrity? Certainly. Presidential? Absolutely.

I don’t need to name these two candidates. You know who they are. Whether you agree or disagree with my characterizations of them, be sure to make your voice heard when the day comes to cast your vote.

Friday, October 17, 2008

trying times

I certainly don’t have any answers. Hell, I’m not even sure what the questions are. All I know is that the economy is good for crap and that I have lost a shitload (that’s one of those technical terms that economists use) of money from my retirement account. Somebody, no one knows who for sure, is selling stocks but no one else is buying them. Or something like that. And those nasty greedy bankers forced a lot of people to borrow more money than they could afford to buy houses they couldn’t afford and now everyone is in foreclosure and nearing bankruptcy. Big, presumed solid, businesses that were run by experts that we depended on to keep those businesses solvent turned out to be idiots who were simply lining their own pockets at our expense. And now we are expected to drag them out of the deep hole they have dug themselves into using tax money that most of us can’t afford to pay because those greedy bastards squandered our savings in their pyramid schemes of predatory mortgages and ill-advised investments.. It seems that anyway you look at it, we, the careful investors and savers and living-within-our-means average guys are getting screwed.

Apparently nobody was watching the bankers as they hung themselves by their fancy silk ties. That’s what the lack of government regulation and oversight will do. Thank you very much, Republicans. When left to their own devices, most bigtime CEOs and their toadies will opt for more and more profit regardless of how they acquire it. Take a bunch of dollar bills and stand them on edge leaning against each other and you will have a more solid foundation on which to build your future than those greedy manipulative assholes in their thousand dollar suits could provide. So now we are faced with a multi-billion dollar bailout scheme that is headed for nationalization of the banking industry. And, since our country can’t afford to save those morons from themselves and propagate a war that drains billions of dollars a month from our budget and meet the obligations of medicare and social security and invest in the infrastructure that is crumbling around us and provide health care for everyone and provide educational opportunities that will help keep us in the vanguard of world wide research and development and find new sources of energy that will free us from the dependence on foreign oil, we are forced by the world economy to borrow more and more money from the Chinese to meet all those obligations. Start brushing up on your Mandarin and get used to a diet of rice and chop suey because the way things are going we are all going to be wearing cone shaped hats before the dust settles.

And, oh yeah, there’s this little thing of a presidential election coming up in a couple weeks. Don’t get me started…

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

the intrepid wandering vet

My daughter, Carrie, is again on the loose, wandering the world. She is a veterinarian involved in some research dealing with anthrax which takes her to Namibia, Africa where she chases Zebras and darts them and takes their blood samples and does lab type things with it. Just getting to Namibia from Berkeley (where she is pursuing a Phd) is an adventure. This trip she had to stop in London first to get accreditation to practice as a vet in Namibia. I'm not sure what the British have do do with veterinary accreditation in Africa (maybe it goes back to the days of the Empire and its contol of that part of the world), but she made the trip to Namibia through London this time. I thought I could share with you her emails while on her latest adventure:

I'm here in London now. Which sounds very exciting, but really I'm just sitting in a hotel room with a view of the arse end of the airport, wondering how in the world I will afford to eat here when one US dollar is worth two raisins and a button.

My flight was rather dull. They didn't feed us until about 9:30PM, by which point I had eaten the fat man next to me. He gave me indigestion. Then they brought round a plate that consisted of a lettuce salad (apparently even green, watery tomatoes cost too much now), beef fat, and water potatoes (a new species of tuber that mashes up into a runny paste). My "breakfast" consisted of a few pieces of tree bark and an oleo sandwich. Thank goodness I brought along some instant oatmeal.

I got slapped with huge baggage fees in SFO - about $127 for one extra bag (other people's lab supplies) and a too-heavy bag (also full of lab supplies - the London bus driver asked me if I didn't have a stow-away in there). I can't wait until I check them in again tomorrow and they charge me in Brit dollars.

I'm going to go figure out where the gym is in this hotel monstrosity - it's a very nice place, and my room is great, but so far they've charged me for almost everything extra they can think of (though the gym is supposed to be the one free thing). They've got everything rigged in the room so if you touch a button, open the minibar, or change the channel, you accrue fees. I'm loathe to turn on the hot water tap for fear I'll be charged per cup. Or per stone, or per fortnight, or per king's ransom on the hoptoad.

I'm told by the telly that I might see a wee bit of sunshine tomorrow if I'm lucky, otherwise it will be gusty and damp and will make me talk in a silly accent. I will try to email again tomorrow, but I have to check out early so I can get to my appointment with the queen in the morning (alright, it's not with the queen). My flight leaves at 8:25PM tomorrow, so I will wander about a bit in the rain and then eventually head to the airport, where I may or may not purchase internets for the equivalent of a week's worth of groceries in Oakland.

love, carrie


Here is the followup email now that she is finally in South Africa getting set for othe next step that will take her to Windhoek, Namibia and then on to Etosha, Namibia, and the research center that will be her home for the next six weeks:

Hi all! I made it here to South Africa, and now it's onto Windhoek soon, where Kelvin (Wendy's Namibian Afrikaaner boyfriend) will pick me up (or so he says - otherwise he tells me I will have to wander down the highway, showing a bit of leg). London was great fun yesterday - I managed to bus, tube, and walk to the RCVS alright (other than the crazy mish mosh of streets - I got quite lost on foot - London is pretty easy to get around). I got all sworn in as an MRCVS (Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons), and got a nice certificate (looks like a diploma) and everything. As long as I keep paying my dues I get to continue being an MRCVS. And now I get to call myself that as well (see signature below). I feel very official and important now. And then afterward I wandered around the Westminster area for about 3.5 hours - got some food, wandered through some parks and by the Thames, hobnobbed with some royals, etc. It was a little rainy, but pretty warm out, which was nice with all the leaves crunching underfoot. Then I made it back to the hotel (it does seem to take a long time to get around there - it took me about an hour and a half to go about 15 miles). I made friends with the concierge, who let me store my bags, repack them, and even take a last minute shower in the hotel's fitness center even though I had been checked out for hours. He also had helped me out that morning, alerting me to the free bus that goes to and from the airport (if you don't have bags), so I got to save 8 pounds there round trip. And then on my way to the airport I made friends with a South African who helped me load and unload my bags from the bus (no small feat, given the number and size of them). And at the airport I made friends with the desk clerk who gave me a discount on the exra bag fee (it was still another $125 or so!). I'm apparently just a very friendly person.

Now I'm in the Joburg airport and should fly out in less than an hour to Windhoek (it's a two hour flight). I didn't sleep much on the last flight - we were in a new plane, which should have made it nicer except for the fact that they made all the seats even smaller and closer together. So the rather large, extremely talkative and fidgety woman next to me was essentially sitting in my lap. Instead of sleeping, I made the mistake of watching the Sex and the City movie (I was curious - think of it as a sociological experiment) - man, that's 2+ hours of my life I wish I had back. Yeesh. I blame the jet lag for letting me keep watching it when I should have just turned it off and stared at said large woman in my lap.

Anyhow, that's that. Time to board soon.


love, carrie

--
Carrie Cizauskas, DVM, MRCVS

So there goes my little girl. Who would have thought back when she had her pockets stuffed with treasures she found around her, when her curiosity led her to examine things around her with a peculiar intensity, that she would harness that enthusiastic curiosity and use it to initiate some astonishing adventures? She is living a life of amazing accomplishment (as both a scientist and an artist) that she takes with a ho hum attitude that makes it all so much more incredible. How did we ever raise such a creature? I'm sure glad we did.

Monday, October 06, 2008

lost

This was a tough weekend for sports fans in Wisconsin. The UW Badgers found a way to turn a win against Ohio State into a loss. The Packers stumbled and bumbled their way to a loss against the Falcons. And the Brewers wimpy hitting finally brought an end to their season against the Phillies.

The Badgers weren’t much of a surprise losing to Ohio State. After their monumental collapse last week against Michigan, I had little hope that they would even be competitive against the Buckeyes. That they made it a game, and even had the lead late in the fourth quarter, was a victory of sorts. Just not the kind of victory that counts in the official record. The Badgers are pretty much out of the hunt for the Big Ten conference title and will be relegated to another minor bowl game this year if they can put together a few more wins. This season that is not a given. But at least the pressure and anxiety I always feel at game time will be lessoned now that they are pretty much out of it. And we will still go to the homecoming game and cheer like fools and enjoy the college football atmosphere once again.

The Packers, in this first post Favre season, started off winning their first two games, giving hope to us all that the team would roll along unscathed by the turmoil of separation anxiety that the Favre fiasco created last summer. But, alas, they have come crashing down to the level of also-rans now that the reality of the season has arrived. While they look good on paper, they still have to play the games and there’s the rub. The Pack has demonstrated a decided lack of talent on the field despite the lofty expectations. It looks like the beginning to another long draught of winning much like we suffered through back in the 70’s and 80’s. I hate being so pessimistic about their prospects, but I just don’t see them winning a lot with the team as it is now. The one good thing about their descent into mediocrity is that my blood pressure will stay normal on Sunday afternoons and my television will suffer fewer bruises during the season now that my expectations for them are so much lower.

That the Brewers were in over their heads in the playoffs was evident from the start. Why the fans around these parts got so excited about their making the playoffs as the wild card team was lost on me. I’ve always considered the wild card team in the playoffs like the little brother who is allowed to play with the big boys just because they needed someone to fill out the roster. The little brother is never expected to play well or certainly not win anything. He’s just there to take up space and even out the sides. The Brewers filled that role quite well. The one consolation in their brief playoff appearance was that they had a better playoff record this year than the division winning Cubs had. The Cubs were swept out of the playoffs in three games against the Dodgers while the brewers managed to win one game against the Philllies. So the Brewers at least have the bragging rights within the division until next year.

Why all this emphasis on sports? It is pretty obvious that we need some healthy diversion from the avalanche of problems besetting us nowadays. The economy, the war, the health care crisis, and the onslaught of the presidential political campaign with its posturing, voting record misrepresentations, innuendos, perceived insults, and outright lies all weigh us down to the point where any diversion is welcome, even if that diversion is a losing sports team. At least with sports there is always another game, another season to look forward to. Redemption is just as close as the next game. I’m not so sure that the same thing applies to politics and those who operate in that arena. It seems that there is a never-ending losing season in pollitics. Where is the redemption? Where is the winning?

Monday, September 29, 2008

finally

In November of 2006, I wrote this post on this blog. I repeat it here for a reason. A reason that will become evident when you click on the link at the end…….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Thanksgivings will always be haunted by the knowledge that our family was chosen to suffer a terrible loss at this time of year. But that only serves to remind us of how thankful we can be for the family we still have, while remembering Uncle Eddie’s fedora, still in place, tilted back on his head, Aunt Frannie sitting primly in the corner, tight curls neatly in place, and Mom in the kitchen supervising, organizing, and still getting everything in order the way it should be. As we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving one more time, we will give thanks for having had them in our lives, while always wondering why they were taken away so cruelly.
posted by BobCiz at 9:14 AM 0 comments links to this post

Twenty years have passed since those events recounted here unfolded. Now at last there seems to be some developments in this old case that are moving it closer to being resolved. This link will take you to a newspaper story published several days ago.
http://www.sheboyganpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080928/SHE0101/809280446/1973

Needless to say, I will be following this story as it develops. Perhaps there will finally be closure.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

vp choice

Much has been made of the process of selecting a running mate for presidential candidates. The necessity of balancing the ticket to appeal to the widest range of voters becomes more a process of elimination than one of selection. In John McCain’s case the selection had to be one that would not alienate the wide conservative base he needs to win the election while maintaining his beloved mantle of maverick and harbinger of change. His support for all the failed policies of the current failed administration means he has to have someone with him to be the spear carrier of change that he can’t really lay claim to. His first choices, Tom Ridge, and Joe Lieberman, were rebuffed by the poobahs of the Republican party as too pro-choice on the abortion issue and Mitt Romney who was unappealing to the female and white worker constituency. So whom does he turn to? Sarah Palin, an unknown arch conservative evangelical who spouts feminist rhetoric while laying claim to her own maverick mantle.

Sarah Palin’s stated stands on the issues of the day are deeply embedded in the evangelical den of conservative thought. She is anti-abortion even in the case of rape and incest, pro-gun, pro-creationism, anti-gay rights, and anti-sex education (am I the only one who sees the irony in a mother opposed to sex education having a pregnant teenage daughter?). She wants to wear the label of environmentalist while denying that global warming is man-made. And most ridiculous of all she calls the war in Iraq “God’s task.”

John McCain’s selection of her smacks of a desperate attempt to pander to the female vote. He appears to be counting on women voters to be superficial enough to vote for any woman despite her stand on the issues. He seems to be counting on those women who were Hillary Clinton supporters to switch to the Republican side just because he has put a woman on the dais next to him. His choice of running mate appears to be another of his quick decisions that got little serious consideration. Another one of those damn the consequences snap judgments that he is known for. So now he has to try to pass her off as career mom, balancing work with family, while opposing the measures that would make woman’s difficulties in such multitasking easier, like expanded family leave and paid sick days and equal pay. McCain has found a running mate who has walked arm in arm with him and George Bush against the interests of women and working people in general.

Sarah Palin has been thrust into the role of attack dog (wearing lipstick, of course) against the Democratic ticket. Her introduction to the country at the Republican convention outlined quite clearly her role in the campaign. She is to be the sarcastic, caustic, snide, and mocking voice that attacks the opposition personally as well as politically. That attitude is hardly presidential. So far we have heard nothing of substance from her, only the constant vitriol of partisan politics lightly disguised with humorous sarcasm.

Granted, she has her good points too. I just can’t think of any right now that would enhance her qualifications to be president if circumstances dictate. But if I ever have a moose in my backyard, I’ll know whom to call.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

presidential qualifications

Speaking of presidential politics, I am always amused and somewhat surprised that there is so much emphasis put on “experience” when discussing the candidates’ qualifications for the job of President of the United States. The fact that the job of president is unique in the world should mitigate the requirement that a potential president have experience as president. Where, pray tell, does one get that experience? A lot can be said about those candidates who have experience in various governing and management capacities, but until you have actually been president, you can’t have the experience everyone is talking about to do the job.

All we can really hope for is that the job of president is turned over to someone with the necessary intelligence and mental acuity to learn on the job. We all know what happens when a man of limited ability and intelligence manages to fall into the job. We get a country that is engaged in fighting an unjust, even illegal war, that costs the taxpayers some 10 billion dollars a month to propagate and costs even more in the lives shattered and lost, a country in the throes of an economic slump that sees too many citizens losing their jobs and homes, a country that ignores the plight of people who can’t afford health care or medications, a country that is in an energy crisis that finds itself reliant on foreign oil from countries that are opposed to our principles, a country whose official stand on global warming is that it is a myth and that raping the environment is fine as long as Big Oil gets its tax breaks and makes obscene profits, a country that sees its standing as a global power diminished more each day.

While it is true that Barack Obama has little experience on the national level of government, being a first term senator with a background in local politics and community service, his obvious intelligence bodes well for his likely ability to handle the demands of the presidency. He has shown an inclination to look at the problems facing our country and arrive at carefully considered solutions to those problems. That some critics want to paint him as elitist and arrogant only shows that they are willing to settle for more years of buffoonery in the presidency.

John McCain’s reputation as a so-called maverick is well deserved. So is his reputation for shooting from the hip, making snap decisions and quick judgments and damn the consequences. And while no one can possibly question his patriotism and courage (how does being a prisoner of war qulaify a person for high government office?), there are those in the senate who have found him to be mean spirited, vindictive, and dismissive of those who disagree with him. His admitted lack of understanding of economics is frightening (I wish I was in his definition of the middle class—anyone earning 5 million dollars or less per year). His unflinching support for the war in Iraq can only suggest that if he becomes president we will be mired in those treacherous desert sands for many more years. His typical Republican dismissal of working class Americans in favor of tax breaks for big business as a way of stimulating the economy and creating jobs is so out of touch that it only emphasizes his disconnection from those working class citizens. His claim to be an agent of change in Washington is laughable. He admits to voting with Bush 90% of the time so the only change he will bring to the presidency is his name. Which should be George McCain.

It is time that our country gets back on the track to serving the best interests of its citizens. It’s time to regain the respect we deserve as the preeminent power in the world. It’s time to put intelligence back into the office of president. Let’s not settle for less than the best. Time for change is here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

motorcycle mania

There is a constant background rumbling in the air, the unmistakable sound of motorcycles revving and idling and roaring away at the green light. This weekend is the 105th anniversary of Harley Davidson and the world around this part of Wisconsin is saturated with the sounds of thousands of motorcycles giving voice to the celebration.

Just 4 blocks from where I am sitting there is a major Harley dealership. That dealership is one of many focal points in the surrounding county that is playing host to bikers from around the country, even from around the world. In my neighborhood, five blocks of a major thoroughfare have been blocked off so that the vendors of Harley paraphernalia and the purveyors of food and drink can set up their tents and trucks to feed those frenzied visitors. This scene is repeated many times around our metro area. And there is a grand stage prepared in our lakefront park that will host the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, for a Saturday concert to keep the festivities rocking.

The signature sound of a Harley Davidson motorcycle idling at a stoplight, the potatopotatopotato gurgle, is as much a fixture of this celebration as the shining chrome pipes and custom paint jobs. The riders themselves adhere to a dress code that is also a signature of sorts-- tee shirts emblazoned with all manner of Harley logos and sentiments from the demonic to the frivolous, blue jeans with black leather chaps, bandanas tying back long flowing hair or protecting shiny shaved heads, and tattoos worn like armor on every exposed inch of flesh. Something made of black leather must be worn at all times lest they feel naked and exposed as the poseurs they are.

Despite all the racket they produce, there is something endearing about a Harley. Maybe it is the pride we take in something uniquely American made that has stood the test of time. The belligerent throaty rumble and raucous roaring dopplered sound of a racing Harley speeding past embodies the power we like to accrue to our country. The macho rumbling underscores our notion of power at the top of a world of uncertainty. Not for us the effete murmurs that foreign bikes produce. The Harley full-throated majesty says we are bigger, faster, louder, cooler than you. If all Americans rode Harleys there would be no doubt of our global supremacy.

But Harleys are not just noise makers. They are machines that are all function in a package that is incredibly beautiful, At times both sleek and massive, they forge an interplay of various pipes and gears and gizmos that taken together make a machine that is both workhorse and sculpture. The various models may differ in size and complexity, but they all adhere to the design principles that make them so attractive. There is never a doubt that the motorcycle that just passed you is a Harley.

The pride in ownership is always apparent whenever you see one these machines. Grease and grime are outlawed at all times. Chrome is always glistening. The paint is never nicked or scratched. The seats are not cracked or worn. Harley owners treat their bikes like a treasured member of the family. No matter what their personal or family circumstances might be, Harley owners will never let that bike deteriorate into something that is less than iconic of the American way.

So happy 105th anniversary Harley Davidson. You make us proud.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

let's move on

Time for me to weigh in on the Brett Favre fiasco in Green Bay. I’ve watched and listened to the ongoing saga just as everyone else has, but have yet to hear anyone say anything resembling an intelligent statement about the whole thing.

First of all, Favre retired in good faith, deciding that his career was over and he was ready to move on. Fine. We, the fans who cheered and occasionally jeered him, accepted his decision and were ready to move on. But in the back of our collective minds was the possibility that he would change his mind. After all, every year for the past few years there was the season end speculation about would he retire or wouldn’t he? Is he coming back or not. Favre would keep us all waiting while he rode his lawntractor back home in Mississippi, waiting for the moment when he felt ready to tell us all whether he would play again or not. We would wait anxiously, hoping that his special brand of football would be part of our Fall land Winter once again. He had a way of holding us in suspension, toying with us and the Packer organization and seeming to relish the power he held over us.

So finally last March he made the decision we had all anticipated with both dread and relief. When Favre announced his retirement in a tearful press conference, all Green Bay Packer fans cheered him, thanked him, and wished him well. We were all grateful for having the chance to share in all the excitement he provided over the seventeen years of his tenure in a Packer uniform. We were ready to move on to the post-Favre Green Bay Packers. A lot of emotion was invested in those days following his retirement announcement. A lot of love was spent on him. But in the back of everyone’s mind was the possibility that maybe, just maybe, he was fucking with us one more time.

Now July rolls around. Football training season starts. And guess who feels the pull of football once again? Our poster boy for indecision is at it again. “Maybe I was too hasty after all. I really want to play again. I’m not quite ready to retire after all.” The shock for him was that the Packers and many of their fans were ready for him to retire, and when he wasn’t welcomed back with the fervor he anticipated and expected, his ego was hurt and he started acting like a petulant child who wanted his way or else. He started moaning and whining about how the general manager of the Packers, Ted Thompson, wasn’t jumping for joy at the prospect of having him return. The head coach, Mike McCarthy, was equally unenthusiastic about the Favre circus returning to Green Bay. Then there was the speculation of his being in touch with several other teams about possibly playing for them instead of the Packers. Not only was that a blatant act of extortion, but it was against league player tampering rules as well. When the commissioner of the NFL dragged his feet reinstating Favre to his Packer contract, that only added to the drama, or farce if you will.


Then we get the press conference with the coach who says he spent most of a day talking with Favre about his state of mind and whether he was ready to invest the kind of effort needed to play football at the high level required of an NFL quarterback. That that was even a question that needed to be asked is ridiculous. If Favre truly wanted to play again there would be no doubt about his mental condition. That Favre himself expressed doubts about his commitment to making the effort and sacrifice necessary to play as a starting quarterback says volumes about his motivation.

It looks more and more like Brett Favre needs a lot of ego stroking in order to live with himself. He says his feelings were hurt by the way his return was handled by the Packer administration. Gimme a break. There are no hurt feelings in football. Be a man, not a wuss. He bemoans the fact that he was not welcomed back as the god he pictures himself to be. He assumed that the job was his if he just showed up after changing his mind about retirement. Apparently it never occurred to him that the world keeps spinning and we all move on to the next phase and that rescinding a decision doesn’t make it all the same as it once was.

Now we are faced with the very real possibility that Favre will play football once again, but in the uniform of a team other than the Green Bay Packers. If Favre was really as attached emotionally to the team and its fans who worship him, how could he even contemplate playing for another team. How could he even fathom the possibility of wearing the uniform of the reviled, hated Vikings, the arch enemy of all Green Bay Packer fans? Favre’s legacy is tarnished already by all this nonsense. If he took the field with another team against the Packers, his legacy as a Packer would be destroyed beyond salvation.

While it is true that this whole situation could have been handled better by both the Packers and Favre, there is no reason to drag it out any longer. Brett, stay retired. Go home and cut your grass and play some golf to satisfy your competitive needs. The Packer organization should hold the number retirement ceremony they planed for the first league game this season and heap all the praise and adulation you that you so richly deserve and obviously need. It’s time to move on. Let’s’ try to pretend that all this nonsense never happened.

Monday, July 28, 2008

shoot em all

I can relate to this. Last week a man was so pissed at his lawnmower for not starting that he got his sawed off shotgun and shot it. Dead. Filled it full of holes. He was subsequently arrested for illegally discharging a firearm in the city and charged with possessing an unlawful shotgun. His reasoning when questioned by police—“it’s my lawnmower and my yard and I can shoot it if I want to.” The police were not amused. The guy could possibly be sent to jail for several years if convicted on those charges.

How often have I wished for a shotgun or some other incendiary device to rid myself of a balking machine? If I had a gun handy for all those past encounters with a failed lawnmower, power tool, or appliance, I would be surrounded by piles of dead, bullet riddled scrap metal. And there would be a special place reserved in hell for those electronic devises—computers, printers, cell phones, you know what I’m talking about--that failed and were subsequently destroyed by machine gun fire and obliterated by hand grenades.

It is probably a good thing that I have no firearms or other weapons at my disposal. It would be too easy to use them when the frustration of dealing with those dastardly devices began to get the best of my good nature. I am a nonviolent person for the most part, but I can see my using weapons of mass destruction on all those uncooperative machines that have plagued my life. It might be satisfying to destroy them at the time, but they would only be replaced by others of their ilk anyway. So instead of shooting those machines full of holes, it might be better to just let them sit rusting and unused. Serve them right for messing with me. Besides, I don’t think spending time in jail for shooting my lawmmower is how I want to be remembered.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

time machine

My bicycle is my time travel vehicle. It takes me back in time to those days when I was able to roll for miles and miles. I used to run for exercise and bike for pleasure. These days I am way past running as a possible means of exercise, but my bike is still a viable choice for pleasure and now more than ever, exercise.

Today I can’t claim that walking, let alone running, is a form of exercise. My Parkinsons shuffle with cane as my prop marks me as the doddering old man I have become. I “walk” as a means simply of staying mobile and fighting off muscle rigidity that is one of the hallmarks of Parkinsons Disease. But when I get on my bicycle I am transported, not just down the road, but back in time to those earlier days when I took my physical abilities for granted. On my “walks” I am 60 going on 70. On my bike I am still 20 going on 30.

There was a time 30 years or more ago when I would ride almost daily for exercise. I would get home from work, eat something, and then get on my bike for a 20 mile workout. On several occasions on a Saturday or Sunday, I would start out early in the morning and ride all day until I had covered the 100 miles I needed to complete a “century.” I loved being outside and being physically capable of such feats. I basically took for granted that I was in good enough shape to do all that.

Now, while PD has robbed me of walking as a means of staying in shape, it has not affected my bike riding capability. I can still balance and handle the bicycle as I always did. I don’t ride as far anymore, 20 miles max, but I still ride. I still get the same pleasure form rolling down the road, eating up the miles, pumping hard up the hills and being rewarded with a fast coast down the other side. The roads here in the country around our lake cottage are ideal for biking, being mostly flat with only occasional hills to challenge an old cyclist like me. The blacktop two lane roads are mostly smooth and the paucity of cars or trucks makes them a safe place to ride right down the middle of the road.

I usually ride alone seeking only the company of my thoughts and the noises that nature sends my way. I love the hum of the tires on the road, the click of the gears changing, and the whoosh of air past my ears. But what I really love is the sound of birds singing and crickets chirping and critters scrambling through the grasses and trees along the road as I startle them with my sudden appearance. A vigilant eye is needed to spot the scurrying squirrels and raccoons and rabbits that dart across the road in front of me. Sometimes a deer or two will bound across the road in my path, but mostly on these hot summer days they are hunkered down in their shady bowers out of sight.

It is not unusual around here to encounter a flock of turkeys pecking their way along the roadside and then taking off in awkward and soon aborted flight when they see me coming. They are ungainly in flight, due most likely to lack of practice, but surprisingly graceful when they trot along the edge of the road looking for the hiding place that will save them form me. Still, their graceful sprint belies the fact that they are, to put it delicately, unattractive. Ok, ugly.

The Sandhill Cranes that populate this area are easy enough to watch in the fields from my vantage point on the road, but they tend to keep their distance, preferring to keep a judicious amount of space between us. They are vocal in their displeasure of my intrusion into their world, often squawking and cackling loudly for me to get away and quit staring at them. They move as slowly as I do when walking, their matchstick legs looking ridiculously fragile as they highstep their way to safety.

Every now and then a hawk will soar overhead on his way to lunch and I have even spotted an eagle presiding over his kingdom from a perch high in the upper reaches of the tallest tree.

While this area is sparsely populated, there are the infrequent homesteads tucked into the open areas between the tree farms and wild growth. It is at those houses that I become most vigilant, my every sense on high alert, because inevitably a crazed barnyard dog, intent on protecting his world from intruders, will come bounding out of nowhere, snarling and barking, warning me away with a viciousness that is astonishing. People around here refuse to restrain their dogs, opting for the watchdog version of their pets. I have had too many encounters of the canine kind while peddling on the roads here to take them lightly. Fact is, some of these dogs scare the living bejeepers out of me. Most of them I can race past before they know I’m there and can mount their attack, but sometimes they see me coming and salivate at the prospect of chomping a chunk out of my leg. So far I have avoided losing that chunk of leg, but I know sooner or later my time will come. Then you will have a tough time convincing me that dogs are man’s best friend.

So now I can still enjoy the freedom that my bicycle gives me despite the ravages of age and PD. When I get on my bike I am transported both back to the past and my earlier joy of riding and also into the future, knowing that I still have the ability to ride and live and enjoy the world around me. The only thing that will slow me down is a flat tire. Or maybe that one barnyard dog that manages to run me down.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

hot is good

The real heat of summer is here with temps in the high eighties. The humidity is oppressive. The sun is cooking everything to well done. The sweat is dripping in my eyes. And I love every minute of it.

I like it hot. Granted, the humidity makes it more difficult to bear, but I like it hot. The hotter the better. I scoff at the sun. Bring it on.

The warmth of these summer days helps to keep my muscles loose and functioning. In the cold I stiffen up too easily and it’s always a battle to stay loose. But in the heat of July half the battle is over before I even get into it. I like that.

They say you should be careful exercising outside in the heat. Beware of heat stroke. Stay hydrated. Seek out shade whenever possible. But I rarely adhere to those admonitions. Shade is for sissies. I do drink a bit more water when I’m active outside in this heat, but not that much more than usual. Heat stroke to me is just a theory.

I love the feeling of sweat oozing out of every pore and running in little rivers down into my eyes and down my back and soaking my shirt and shorts. I like the image of my skin glistening with a sheen of sweet sweat. I like the idea that the sweat I create is cleansing my body of all those nasty toxins that accumulate in me despite my best efforts to stay pure. Sweat is good. It means you are still alive.

So while everyone else is moaning about how uncomfortable they are and how nasty the heat and humidity are and how they wish it was December, I am reveling in the joy of July and its wondrous capacity to make me feel good. This is the best time of year by far. I love it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

fireflies

Questiion—what makes fireflies sparkle like, well. like fireflies? I just returned from my usual evening walk, during which I was entertained by the flitting about of many of those little beacons. Curious old soul that I am, I naturally wondered why they do that.

It seems to me that most bugs have a short lifespan. They barely last a season, many don’t last a week. They are convenient prey for the hungry birds and bats and other critters that find them unusually palatable. Their existence must be tenuous in the best of times. I should think that most bugs are wary and furtive in their movements so as not to attract too much attention from that list of predators.

And then you have the fireflies. Are they particularly stupid or unusually brave? They flit around brazenly advertising their presence for all the world to see. Do they really expect to get away from those who would make a meal of them? Are they thumbing their noses at their voracious enemies and daring those enemies to “bring it on.”
Are they born or hatched or metamorphed or whatever with an unusually strong death wish? Are they nature’s kamikazes? Or are they just going about their lives as nature intended, oblivious to the danger that surrounds them, content to be as fireflie-y as they can be?

Maybe there’s a lesson there for us.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

summertime menace

I just returned from a walk down the road here at the lake. It has become one of my daily rituals that after dinner in the evening, I grab my cane and I “stroll” to the end of our road and back, a distance of just over half a mile.

“Stroll” is a relative term in my case. With Parkinsons, it is more of a long shuffle. But I need to keep moving or I won’t be able to move at all. So I force myself to make the effort. Sometimes Mary will accompany me, but I can tell she would rather move a bit faster than I am capable of moving, so she will usually take the dog for a walk instead, using the animal as an excuse to get going. But that’s ok. I enjoy the time alone to observe nature and get lost in my thoughts.

But now there is an added dimension to my evening strolls. I am getting a lot more exercise now than I used to get. It seems all the arm waving and hand swatting of mosquitoes takes a lot more energy than a simple amble down the road. Swarms of the nasty little buzzers are intent on making me their evening meal. With all the recent rain we’ve had there are too many breeding areas of standing water left around. And those puddles and ponds are generating a bumper crop of voracious mosquitoes.

The frightening thing is that the worst of it is yet to come. This is only the first exploratory wave, the recon patrol if you will, of the huge army of flying marauders that will be hatched in the next week or two. Once they get here, it will be advisable to keep small children indoors, lest they be carried off into the woods for later consumption by the horde of bugs. Venturing outdoors will require some serious preparation. I’m thinking several layers of long pants, long sleeves, hoods and netting will be about right. And an industrial size spray can of insecticide to create a fog of safety around me will be the weapon of choice in the ensuing battle.

I realize that I could simply eliminate my evening constitutional and save all the hassle, but, hey, I got here first and I refuse to be chased off by a bug. I need to walk. And a treadmill is not quite the same.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

summertime blogger blues

I’ve been a bad blogger lately. I have been neglecting my blogger responsibilities. I have a million excuses for doing so, but the only real reason is laziness. And golf. And happy hour. And wonderful summer days that insist I be outside away from the computer.

Summers are like that. We endure the cold hard winters around here thinking and hoping for the warmth of summer, so when it finally arrives, we would be crazy not to take advantage of it. So instead of spending hours in my workshop, hours reading and writing, hours cocooned inside, I am outside reveling in the best of all seasons. I even like cutting the grass, which has been growing with a vengeance lately due to the exorbitant amount of water that has been falling from the sky. So blame my blogging negligence on the rain and growing grass. That’s as good a place to lay the blame as any.

Another reason for my dereliction of blogging duty is the fact that internet access is difficult to come by here at the lake. Our cottage does not have all the requisite electronic accoutrements to be part of the 21st century. Yes we have running water and indoor plumbing. We even have heat and air conditioning. We have television and radio. We have kayaks, a sailboat, a canoe, and bicycles. But we don’t have internet access. So call us primitive if you must and look for the smoke signals I will send from our next bonfire. And then when I finally get the time to run into town and seek out my corner in the local library where I can make use of their wifi to connect electronically with the outside world, you will know that I am still alive and kicking.

Until then, just assume that I am taking full advantage of the summer freedom to wander through the outdoors, chasing golf balls, paddling the kayak, riding my bicycle, and, yes, cutting the grass. Winter will return soon enough. I refuse to squander the summer with indoor activities. Unless it’s raining. Like today. That’s why I am here in the library and why I have time to write this.

The clouds are clearing. The sun is peeking through. Bye for now.

Friday, June 13, 2008

way too wet

We got hammered again yesterday and last night with more torrential rainfalls. The onslaught has been nearly unrelenting since last week. Widespread flooding in southern and eastern Wisconsin has wreaked havoc on those areas near rivers and lakes. That is to say, all of southeastern Wisconsin.

All the local tv stations have been reporting the weather created devastation nonstop for the past couple days. Each story is worse than the last. The scenes of people desperately filling and stacking sandbags in a mostly futile attempt to save their houses is gut wrenching in its pathos. The rivers keep rising, the dams keep failing, and yet people battle on, thinking that they can beat Nature at its most unrelenting. The human spirit stays high and dry while the world all around is drowning. You have to be impressed with the fight in people while still shaking your head at the futility of the fight.

The past winter saw nearly record setting snowfalls around here and now this June has been officially declared the wetttest on record. All anyone wants right now is a boring weather forecast. Yet the prognosticators are predicting more scattered showers over the next few days. The already saturated earth can't hold anymore moisture, so there will be even more flooding before the rivers and lakes start to recede and offer a respite for the weary. All eyes are aimed skyward while curses are uttered at the approaching clouds with one breath and prayers for relief are sent heavenward with the next.

All we can do is endure. Eventually some normalcy will return.

Monday, June 09, 2008

water, water everywhere

Well, we still have our heads above water after a long weekend of nearly nonstop heavy rains. I think the official total rainfall is somewhere around 6 inches. And most of that is still sitting there since the ground is thoroughly saturated. Tornado warnings and severe thunderstorm warnings were constant all weekend from Friday evening until Sunday evening. We spent about 45 minutes in the basement on Saturday when it looked like a tornado was about to appear. Sirens were blaring for quite awhile. While we didn't see any tornados, the winds were sometimes in excess of 60-70 mph with these storms, so there was a lot of wind damage as well as flooding. Scary stuff. But the only real worry we had through all of it was that the sump pump would quit and we would have to spend the next couple days bailing out the basement. Katie's (daughter-in-law) folks had it a lot worse than we did. Their basement flooded and they lost a lot of stuff. Their street was flooded because the storm sewers couldn't handle the volume of water that fell in such a short time, so the water had no where to go but to the lowest point, which turned out to be their basement. What a mess. Rivers are overflowing their banks and flooding areas all across the state. Roads, even the interstate, were closed for periods during the weekend, and the pictures of flooded and abandoned cars were a testament to the folly and sometimes stupidity of people thinking that they could go where no one else could. Still, there have been no reports of deaths or injuries caused by the storms and flooding. So that's good.

Right now it is darkly cloudy and nasty looking out there again. I think we are in for another round of showers today. The week long forecast calls for showers nearly everyday, but not the severe kind we had over the weekend. So the prospect of the ground drying out is only a dream right now. Our lake has reappeared in the backyard larger and deeper than ever, so we anticipate the arrival of ducks any minute now. The landscape is all impossibly green and lush because of the rain, too. The lake at the cottage should be at an historical high point as well. So there are some good things to come out of the biblical event--full lakes, green everywhere and a plethora of ducks to enjoy it all with. I can think of worse things.....

Monday, June 02, 2008

insanity

I’m concerned. I did something so out of character for me yesterday that I am questioning my sanity. I don’t know what caused me to lose it like that, so I am worried that I might someday have another attack of lunacy and do something really stupid.

You could count on half the fingers of you left hand (or your right if you are so inclined) the number of times in my life that I have washed a car. I don’t mean taking it to the carwash and driving it through the machine. I mean getting out the hose and the brush and the chamoix and the rags and actually going through the process of washing the car. I’ve always considered that one of the most useless, meaningless, ridiculous, futile exercises ever invented by man. Consider: as soon as you take the car out on the road it is going to get dirty all over again. If it rains within a day or two of your cleaning effort, you will be cursing the heavens for dirtying your car. Why bother with the frustration. Leave the car spotted and streaked and covered with the detritus of a well-used vehicle and be done with it.

Cars were made to be driven, not washed. Cars are transportation, not showpieces, unless you are engaged in a custom car show where the object is to dazzle the gawkers with the gleam of your chrome. Then and only then, is it permissable to take the time and expend the effort to wash and wax and shine a car. Otherwise, get a life.

So realizing where my attitude about carwashing lies, how do I explain my radical actions of yesterday. Ok, you say what’s the big deal? Washing a car isn’t earthshattering. But I failed to mention that I didn’t wash just one car. And if you’re thinking that two cars washed still isn’t beyond the pale, keep counting. We currently have four, count em, four, vehicles of various descriptions clogging the garage and driveway. We have the sedan, the minivan, the pickup and the visiting sedan. The first three are ours, the last one is our daughter-in-law’s, which is occupying garage space while son and daughter-in-law are on vacation. So, as not to show favoritism to any one of the aforementioned vehicles, I lost all sense of proportion and washed them all.

Perhaps it was the beautiful day, full of sunshine and warmth. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to go in the house where Mary was engaged in window washing (second on my list of ridiculous chores) and fearing that I would be dragooned into helping her, I opted to stay outside and look like I was doing something useful. I figured if she was watching me from inside, I could earn a few more husband points in the process, since she considers a clean car second only to a clean house. She has been known to lavish undo attention on all our cars and vans and trucks, even doing the occasional body work to restore them to their showroom quality. I am not ashamed to admit that I let her wash my truck whenever she wants to. It’s the least I can do to help her maintain her own sanity. But for me to get so carried away as she often does, is frightening. Maybe all these years of her goading and haranguing me about keeping the cars clean has finally seeped into my brain. Maybe my brainwashing is complete.

So now my greatest worry is that I am susceptible to the power of suggestion. If I can be brainwashed into washing cars, what’s next?
Washing windows? Shampooing carpets? Wallpapering? Voting Republican? If that happens, please put me out of my misery. Just be sure the hearse is clean and shining.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

surprise

She never had a clue. The surprise was total. Her reaction was priceless. Her surprise birthday party was both a party and a surprise. It couldn’t have worked out better.

About three weeks ago I figured I had to do something special for Mary’s birthday this year. After all, your 60th birthday is something of a milestone, not unlike your thirtieth. At thirty you pass into real adulthood; at 60 you pass into senior adulthood. So it is definitely worth noting in some special way.

I am not usually one to take notice of birthdays and anniversaries. In fact I have landed in the doghouse any number of times for forgetting some special occasion that I didn’t think was so special. I don’t typically do the card thing or lavish presents on the celebrant. I’m not cheap, just indifferent. I hate it when anyone makes a big deal out of my birthday, so I would be a hypocrite to treat others the way I don’t want to b treated.

But for some reason I thought some special effort was required this time. Sixty is a milestone worth noting. So I jumped in with both feet and started planning a surprise party for her. I have never done anything like this before so I was flying blind here. The first thing I did was contact the people I knew she would love to see there. I had to judge if there was actually any interest. Everyone I contacted was thrilled to be part of the surprise. So now I had to actually come up with some kind of party.

The next concern was the best time to spring this surprise on her. Since her birthday was actually on May 19th ( see, I’m not a total loser. I do know when her birthday is), and we were in California that weekend, I had to find another weekend when everyone would be able to be there. Since Memorial Day weekend was the next weekend, figured most people would have some flexibility with the extra day off. So I settled on Sunday and everyone seemed good with that.

The next question was where to have this shindig. Memorial Day weekend is typically spent at the lake, so if this surprise was going to be a surprise I figured we couldn’t deviate from the norm. So Sunday at the cottage was the place to be. The fact that our lake cottage is a two hour drive away didn’t deter any of the intended guests. I think the fact that they were all willing to make that effort for Mary says a lot about how much they think of her.

Most parties like this require food and refreshments of some kind so that was my next concern. Since this is Wisconsin, you can’t have an outdoor picnic without brats and hamburgers as the main entrée. I think it may actually be against the law to not serve brats anytime there are more than three people in a backyard. So brats and burgers was the obvious choice. I ran to the deli and scored a cheese tray and a veggie tray and bought a whole truckload of junk food snacks. Since most of the expected guests were winos, I bought a case of various wines to satisfy that vice and added some beer for those of us who favor more traditional liquids with our brats. Naturally I threw in some sodas for the younguns and teetotalers in the crowd.

Next problem—logistics. I couldn’t just load the van for the weekend with all the party goods and not expect her to see them and know something was up and spoil the surprise. So despite $4 gas, I made a quick run up to the cottage on Thursday to deliver the food and drink. I put most of the stuff in a cabinet in the garage that she would never think about going into. The food that needed refrigeration I put in the neighbor’s refrigerator. I drove the 2 hours there, spent twenty minutes unloading, and drove two hours back to be home before she came home from work . When she asked me what I did that day, I told her I vacuumed the house and washed the floors. Ok, so I told a little white lie. It was for a good cause.

Sunday arrived right after Saturday the way it always does. Jon and Katie (son and daughter-in-law) came up on Saturday so Jon and I could get in a round of golf. They told Mary that they had to leave by noon on Sunday to go to a friend’s picnic back home. So at noon they got in their car with their stuff and their dog and drove out of the driveway. They actually just went to town to buy the ice we needed for the drinks. I had arranged with our next door neighbor, Judy (Mary’s best friend in the whole world), that she would take Mary out for lunch at noon on Sunday so we could get her out of the way for an hour or so. That also solved the problem of getting Mary dressed and presentable since she likes nothing better than to lounge around on Sunday in her pajamas, reading the paper and drinking her coffee. I didn’t want her to be embarrassed as well as surprised, so lunch with Judy solved two problems. We had some serious party prep to take care of while they were gone.

As Judy drove Mary out of the driveway for their lunch, I was on the phone calling Jon and Katie giving the code “the hen has flown the coop”, so they would know it was ok to return. Then while I grilled the brats and hamburgers, they decorated the place and got all the other food out and prepared. Pete from next door brought over a bunch of extra lawn chairs that he had cleaned up for the occasion. I stapled the sign I had made to the mailbox so the guests would know they were at the right place. We managed to get pretty well organized by the time the first of our guests arrived at 1:15.

By t he time Judy brought Mary back from lunch most of the partiers were there. As they drove in the driveway Mary saw the sign and it didn’t really register that she was going to be the center of attention. Then the first person she saw standing in the driveway was her brother, Joel, whom she hadn’t seen for three years. She gasped, screamed, bent over at he waist crying in joy and excitement and proceeded to nearly break his spine with a hug. It still hadn’t dawned on her that there was anything more unusual than a visit from her brother going on. Then as she noticed more people in the driveway and on the deck greeting her with birthday wishes she finally got the idea. But the surprise wasn’t over just yet. She thought she had seen everyone there when she walked into the cottage and three of her good teacher friends and colleagues from school were hiding in the kitchen waiting for her. She shrieked in astonishment and literally wet her pants. (I promised not to tell that part, but I lied) By then she realized that all this was for her and she settled into the party, enjoying being the center of attention. As the afternoon progressed, more friends arrived starting the cries of surprise and joy all over again. Just witnessing her reaction was worth all the effort that went into making this a celebration she won’t soon forget.

My efforts on her behalf also garnered me scads of husbandly points. I may actually be on the positive side of the ledger for the time being. I am enjoying her grateful attentions. Unfortunately, a sixtieth birthday only happens once, so I will have to come up with some new excuse for throwing a party or some way to stay in her good graces for awhile. It was all worth it and I would do it all again just to see her joy once more.