Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I've not been idle

Despite my seeming lack of accomplishment lately, I've still managed to produce some interesting sculptures. But now I feel like I have to complete the few works still on the workbench because the warmer spring weather and the resultant outside chores and activities beckon me outside and away from the shop. I hate being cooped up in the basement when the sun is shining outside. So unless I move the workshop out into the garage for the summer, I won't be getting a whole lot done on the creative side of the ledger. I will just keep stockpiling the ideas until I can devote the proper time and effort when the weather turns nasty again in the Fall.

Here are several recently completed pieces that you haven't seen yet. There are a few others still to be photographed that I will post here soon.

This vine covered vase is made from a variety if woods. The vines are oak with maple leaves. The little flowers exploding from the top are carved pine.

This is simply called "Tree." The trunk is cedar and the "leaves" are maple. It stands 16" high.

This is one of my favorites called "Almost Bottle." This "bottle" is made from a couple hundred pieces of pine, maple. and walnut and stands about 16" high.

If you want to see more of my completed pieces go here. I also have a few things for sale here.

In a few days I willl have some more for you to look at as I clear the workshop. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 28, 2008

what to do

I'm at a point now where there is so much to do that I get nothing done. Hve you ever been so overwhelmed with choices that you can't seem to pick just one and so you ignore them all and do nothing? That's where I'm at right now.

Every day I think of several things to write about here, but everyday I manage to think of a bunch of other things to do instead that seem more important. I seem to be unable to allocate time for everything so I spend an inordinant amount of time trying to decide what to do. That indecision takes more time than actually doing something on the list.

I have three things in the works in the shop and several more ideas I want to pursue there. Great, you say, so get at it and aaccomplish something. But, no, there is a lot of outside work that needs doing now that the growing season is finally upon us. The grass needs to be cut and plants need to be moved and planted. But today it is too cold and wet to work outside, so those tasks will get pushed to tomorrow or the next day or the to the next time I feel lilke going outsiide, which might be who knows when. There are a few minor repair and maintainence jobs around the house to do, but I can't seem to find the right time to do them. Usually by this time in April I have at least a half dozen rounds of golf in, but this year I haven't even dragged the clubs out of the basement yet. Then there are the books I intend to read and the magazines to keep up with and the ballgames to watch on tv. And don't forget the list of chores that Mary seems to think I should be doing. Her lists never get any shorter.

There is also the underlying current of societal concerns that add to the ennui. We have gas prices that are becooming unmanagable, food prices that are leading us to unwanted diets, politicians who are sniping at each other, protests in the streets over too many issues to keep track of, and the nearly daily news of another of our soldiers killed needlessly in a war thaat never should have been.

So here I sit at the keyboard whining and complaining instead of doing. Is there a name for this condition. I hope it's not depression.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

smoking ban

The governor of Wisconsin has proposed legislation that would ban smoking in any public place in the state. That would include restaurants and bars as well as office buildings, shopping centers, and any place of public commerce. The only place smokers would be free to pursue their death by cancer wish would be their own homes.

While I applaud the spirit behind the proposed legislation, I am a bit concerned about the attack on personal freedom that the ban would create. Certainly, those of us who do not smoke and are offended by the smell and danger of second hand smoke when we are in a smoking environment, deserve to be protected from that danger and offensive odor. But we are perfectly capable of avoiding those places where we are likely to encounter smokers. We don’t necessarily need our wellbeing to be legislated for us. Freedom of choice applies to smokers as well as non-smokers.

A more viable way, and certainly a more democratic way, to cut down on the likelihood of abstainers being subjected to the airborne carcinogens is to tax the hell out of cigarettes. If you want to befoul your lungs and my air, you should have to pay dearly for that privilege. Some might argue that cigarettes are already taxed to the limit, but piling on another sin tax is a lot easier to get through the legislature than a total ban would be.

Forbidding the use of a particular product hasn’t worked well in the past, so there is no reason to think it will work now. Prohibition was a joke that did little to cut down on the consumption of alcohol.
All it did was create a thriving black market that boosted the incomes and influence of gangsters. The incidence of alcoholism may have dipped, but even mostly law abiding citizens were known to frequent the local speakeasy or to carry their own flasks of illicit hootch. It turned out to be much more beneficial to the citizenry as a whole to make the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages legal, regulated, and taxed. Lots of money that would otherwise be lining the pockets of black marketeers is now in the government’s coffers instead.

I can remember when the sale of margarine was prohibited in this state. Oleomargarine was considered a dire threat to the health and financial wellbeing of the state’s farmers. We are, after all, the Dairy State. Margarine was an affront to our natural wholesomeness.
That, however, didn’t stop the loyal citizens of Wisconsin from making oleo runs across the state line to that heathen state of Illinois to buy carloads of the contraband to distribute among friends and relatives who chose to flaunt the law in favor of their pocketbooks. The state eventually came to its senses and allowed the sale of margarine within its boundaries, thus making law abiding citizens of those previously criminal inhabitants. And wasn’t that extra tax money levied on that poisonous margarine nice, too? And I don’t think that allowing the sale of margarine in this state had much too do with the decline of the family farm. There were too many other factors involved in that decline. Blaming the mere sale of a butter substitute is only one of a host of problems that quickened the demise of those farms.

So prohibiting the use of tobacco products in any public place is probably a doomed enterprise. The tobacco lobby is much too strong and would certainly come out firing its high caliber artillery in a scattershot pattern over the legislature to prevent such a measure from gaining the force of law. So let’s tax the nicotine out of them instead. That way we will have not only the tax burden to help eradicate the deadly nuisance, but with the recession we are experiencing now to help, we can count on smokers to have to make the tough choice of either smoking or eating. Undoubtedly, some will have to think twice about that choice, but enough of them will opt for eating to effectively cut down on the clouds of smoke that hang over us all.

Oh yeah, and there will be fewer cases of lung cancer to help drive up the cost of health care. The cost of health care? That’s another discussion for another time. Don’t get me started.

Monday, April 14, 2008

PD men's group

Today, this afternoon, I attended the monthly meeting of the men’s support group for guys with Parkinsons Disease. There were 16 men present this time, about usual for these things. The topic for discussion today was “What makes this group

Apparently, this group is unusual in that it has been a viable group for a rather long time. While other groups like this one have floundered and disappeared, this group continues on. I have only participated for the past six months or so, but the group has been functioning for years with men coming and going over that period of time. And yet even with the fluctuations in the membership, the group continues on without a hitch. Why?

The leadership of the group is pair of individuals who have been involved for a long time and take seriously the responsibility of keeping the group alive. They call each member before each meeting to remind us of the meeting. That alone makes us feel that we are, each of us, important to the group and that the group is important enough to require our attending. Such a little thing looms large in the overall scheme of things. Those same two facilitators take the time and make the effort to find guest speakers that have something important to share with the group.

I also think that a group like this attracts only those men who are willing to share their experiences and concerns and are articulate enough to do so. As far as I can tell, all the members that I have encountered in my half dozen meetings are currently professionals or managers of some kind or have retired from such positions. Most seem to be comfortable with speaking out in a group. All have been well spoken and articulate. There isn’t any macho bullshit flying around.

I have also found that when any one of us expresses a concern or broaches a problem that is currently vexing him, the support from the group is never one of sympathy, but rather one of empathy. That may seem an inconsequential distinction, but none of us is looking for sympathy or pity, but rather understanding from the others who may have dealt with the same problem themselves or are experiencing the same problem now. Understanding that there are others coping with the same feelings and have found solutions, or at least methods of dealing with the problems, makes everyone better off.

So I guess the answer to the question, “What makes this group work?” is the people involved. Doesn’t it always come down to people?

Olympic protest

I’ve always been a fan of the Olympics, both the summer and winter games. I love seeing the remarkable feats of strength and endurance, the feats that human beings are capable of doing. Such wonderful examples of the physical capability we possess always leaves me with a feeling of awe.

The purity of the Olympics, unfortunately, has been too tainted by the politicizing of the games in the past and now again even before the opening ceremonies of this year’s Olympiad in Beijing. To go along with those wondrous feats of physical prowess we have too often been subjected to the political rantings of opponents to the policies of participating countries. Such a grand platform is irresistible to the various factions that want to bring their causes to the global stage, getting the kind of attention that helps to legitimize their protests.

The Olympic Torch relay that spans the globe leading up to the summer games has become the latest grand event for those with any protest on their agenda. Recent protests in London, Paris, and San Francisco have grabbed the headlines away from what is intended as an inspiring lead up to the games in Beijing. What should be a cause for celebrating the union of all the world’s citizens in common effort instead has become an occasion for divisive protests over the alleged human rights transgressions of host, China.

I am sure that the Olympic governing body was well aware of China’s history. It seems a bit na├»ve to think that China would suddenly change course and adhere to the standard of human rights that is written into the Olympic charter.

This is not to say that those human rights abuses aren’t real. China has a long and dismal record in that area. My concern, or protest, is that the Olympics should be above those political rantings. They should be a celebration of the competition between people of extraordinary physical prowess, not a celebration of the countries who send participants to the games. It would be far better to have all the athletes compete for their own glory rather than for the glory of the flag that flies behind them on the victory stand.

Unfortunately, the games have a long history of playing the political one-upsmanship card. Hitler used the 1936 Berlin games to push the Nazi theory of Aryan supremacy. The 1972 Games in Munich were a deadly and horrific example of how far political protest can go when Palestinian terrorists slaughtered Israeli athletes. The 1980 Moscow Olympics suffered the boycott of the US in an ill-conceived protest over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. While in more recent times, the Games seem to be more and more a counting contest involving medals won by a country’s athletes and how the higher the number the more prestige that country gains. That kind of chauvinism is as deplorable as any overt protest dreamed up by militant extremists.

I don’t need a newscast filled with the latest protests over the Chinese rape of Tibet or the genocide in Darfur accompanying the Olympic Torch as it makes its way around the world. I don’t need a group of protesters using the Olympics to call my attention to what is wrong in the world. I don’t need or want those protesters to sully and demean the Olympics with their chanting of slogans and waving of banners. I would much prefer that the Olympics be a refuge, however short, from such rabble rousing.

So while I will still enjoy the athletic accomplishments of my fellow human beings, I will ignore protesting voices and the flag waving and anthem playing part that follows each contest. That will be my kind of protest.

Friday, April 11, 2008

more from the workshop

Lately I've been exploring the "box" as an artform. I find there is an infinite variety of shapes and details that can be applied to the genre. My first few attempts are somewhat simple, but no less useful and attractive for that simplicity. I like the idea of continueing the ages-old use of containers for artistic expression. Some of the earliest evidence of mankind's existance is found in the bowls and jars and jugs and storage utensils employed by early man. I'm just adding to that heritage in my own feeble way.

This maple and walnut box is 8" long by 3"x3", The top swivels open and closed.

This 5" cube box is a uniquely shaped octagon with four concave sides. It is made of maple, walnut and purpleheart.

You can find these boxes and several other items for sale here. I have opened a shop at that site as an experiment to see if it is a viable way for me to enter into the world of commerce. As always, you can also see a more comprehensive compilation of my work at my gallery site. If this commerce thing works out I will continue to offer more of my efforts for sale in the future. Thanks for looking.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

confessions of a girl scout, part 3

But, back to girl scouting and my misadventures at camp. Just because I had the feeling that I was pushing the limits of good behavior, that didn’t stop me from my pursuit of gender education. I figured that as long as no thunderbolts struck me, I was safe to continue. So I did.

I wasn’t totally alone in my quest all the time. I had a best friend during those grade school years named Johnny. He and I were co-conspiritors in many a misadventure that nowadays would land us in juvenile detention. It’s not that we ever set out to do something naughty (Johnny was an altar boy and choir boy, too), but sometimes we ended up on the wrong side of the behavior line. The greatest coup in my gender education happened with the help and encouragement of Johnny. Or maybe the double dare is what did it. Anyway, I came away with plenty of material for the confessional.

Johnny’s mother was a nurse. One summer the girl scout camp needed a nurse for a couple weeks to fill in for the regular nurse. Johnny’s mom volunteered to fill in and, being the responsible parent she was, realized that leaving her young son home without his mother for two weeks was probably a bad idea. So she dragged him along. And he dragged me along. What are best friends for, after all.

Having a playmate made all the adventures in the woods just that much more exciting. Two conniving minds can come up with any number of activities that one alone wouldn’t think of or actually do. But that second imagination easily more than doubled the mischief to be gotten into. Where one boy alone might talk himself out of a certain adventure, the goading and daring that accompanies a playmate every bit as sneaky as the other, means naughty takes on a whole new meaning.

Johnny was an instigator, a provacateur of the highest order. At that stage in my young life I was easily led and influenced by his stronger leadership skills. And his imagination was a bit more advanced than mine. Where I was content to hide under the tent platforms and take my chances, he was more proactive, ready to drill peepholes in the floorboards and create well positioned rips in the tent fabric. Only my reluctance to perpetrate such obvious felonies kept us from eventual condemnation to hell.

I wasn’t totally reluctant to participate in all his suggestions, though. While I might have been a bit more timid, when he came up with the tree climbing idea to create a lookout post, I was the first one up the tree. Remember that swimming pool mentioned earlier? It was situated among the trees in a clearing created specifically for it. The pool being surrounded by woods, there were numerous climbing trees available to the adventurous that provided lines of vision that made spying easy. And we weren’t just spying on the pool itself. That would be boring. But the fact that there was a changng room next to the pool that was for some inexplicable reason left roofless, was what motivated our tree climbing.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Simple geometry entered into our calculations about which tree to climb, although we had no idea what geometry was yet. Quick intuitive calculations told us which tree was tall enough to afford a sightline over the 8’ walls of the changing room. As fate and the devil would have it, that tree was eminately climbable and offered perfect cover for two small boys intent on spying. You might call it peeping and privacy invasion, but we were 7 years old and curiosity trumps privacy every time at that age.

We were lucky that at the time of our tree-perch-spying, the camp was occupied by a troop of 12 to 14 year old girl scouts. Girls at that age have attributes that are fascinating for the mostly innocent, unschooled, prepubescent boy. But even at that age, despite our innocence, we were quite certain that all those bodily bumps and curves were in the right places and meant for something wonderful, although we weren’t quite sure what the “wonderful” was just yet.

Good luck was our companion then. We were lucky to find the perfect perch and more lucky never to get caught doing our spying. To this day when I think of girl scouting , I think of scouting girls. And thankfully, that early visual sex education had the advantage of preparing me for the onslaught of puberty. As I got older and closer to my own sexual awareness, my earlier spying provided the information that was so difficult to come by in those days. I had a pretty good idea what all those girls had hidden under those clothes, so I didn’t need to do any more spying, to satisfy that natural curiosity. Any spying that occurred after the onset of puberty was commanded not by curiosty, but by lust. But that’s another story.

And yes, I did go to confession. I’m still doing the penance meted out by Father in the confessional.

confession of a girl scout, part 2

The girl scout camp was laid out like a wheel with the main lodge and kitchen/mess hall the hub, with four “units” and the swimming pool radiating down wooded paths from that hub. I knew every tree, every bush, every hill and hiding place along all those paths. I knew which trees to climb and which were wide enough to hide me. I knew the best routes to take to sneak up unseen on the units where the girls had most of their activites and where their tents were pitched.

Ah, the tents. They were actually army surplus six man tents that were erected upon wooden platforms. The platforms were in some cases raised on concrete blocks to level them on the uneven terrain. Raised platforms make for snug and secret crawl spaces ideally suited to a sneaking boy bent on learning the strange habits of female wildlife. Once the spiders and other bugs that staked out their territory under the platforms were evicted and the other little critters were scared off by my invasion of their territory, the space under those tents became my lair, my base of operations, and my classroom where I learned more than I needed to know at that age and definitely more than I bargained for.

Those platforms that supported the girls’ living quarters were not of the finest workmanship. The gaps between floorboards were not quite wide enough to see through clearly, even if you were stationed strategically under the openings. Of course, what little view there was between boards was bifurcated by the width of the boards, so there was a bit of shifting back and forth underneath required to obtain the best view of the movements on top of the platforms. I became quite adept at shifting silently while doing my spying.

I also, of course, knew the best times to position myself in my hidey hole, so that my sneakiness and spying were justly rewarded with the most educational, shall we say, observations. Bedtime was, for obvious reasons, a most advantageous time for advancing my knowledge of the female mystery. Not only was I privey to their conversations--often about boys, which at the time I couldn’t quite figure out--but I gradually learned which girls had flowers or bunnies on their underpants and which wore just plain white or pink and sometimes other odd colors. I was occasionally rewarded for my patience with a glimplse of a bare buttock or even a faint fleeting glimpse of a budding nipple when those strange harness like contraptions they wore were removed. The absence of the protruding genitalia that I was familiar with was a total mystery to me. I wondered what strange growth spurt would be necessary for those poor girls to catch up to my development.

You may be thinking that I was a rotten little seven year old kid for exercising such voyeuristic tendencies. But what I was doing seemed to me only a game of hide and seek, with me doing the hiding and no one but my imagination doing the seeking. Unlike some kids at that age, I did not share my world with any imaginary friends, who could be used to take the blame or offer excuses for my activities. I was really just playing. The fact that those girls were around to provide someone for me to spy on was a bonus. I would have played the same game if they weren’t there, using my imagination to provide the necessary foils for my spying. It just wouldn’t have been as much fun. Or as educational.

So I really wasn’t as rotten as it would appear. I really was a good kid. And I mean good. I was the good little Catholic altar boy. I was the proverbial choir boy goody-goody. Only I was literally a choir boy. I sang in the parish boys’ choir. I went to mass everyday. I identified with the parish priest, who was one of my heroes. (Don’t go getting any ideas about molestation or any other kind of unsavory activity. Nothing like that ever happened to me or anyone I knew). I never got into trouble. I hung around with other choir boys just like me. I was my mother’s favorite, although I never consciously took advantage of that . I was an A student who always did his homework. I even played Jesus Christ in one of the grade school Easter pageants. And I was cute. The girls in my class always were hanging around making those stupid girl faces at me. I was such a perfect little boy that I’m sure there were any number of my contemporaries who would gladly have punched my lights out. Of course, being so saintly, I would simply have turned the other cheek, and then prayed for them. What an insufferable little twit I was. But I was a good twit.

So my lurking and spying, when taken in the context of such a perfect little boy, is probably all the more disgraceful because I certainly should have known better. But, hey, it was only a venial sin not a mortal sin, and I didn’t really expect to burn in hell for all eternity for it, despite the remonstrations of those holier-than-thow nuns. (They, the nuns, knew what nasty little perverts lurked under the innocent veneer of us choir boys. They caught on when they discovered the furtive upward glances we directed at the girls in line on the steps above us as we waited for the dismissal bell at the end of the day. We, of course, were trying desperately to see the underpants beneath the skirts the girls wore. Sometimes we got lucky. Then we got unlucky when the nuns got smart and moved the girls to the front of the line, relegating us boys to the top of the stairs and back to our imaginations.) I figured God, in all His benificent wisdom, expected us to find out somehow how we were different, or He wouldn’t have made us that way. Right? The means for that discovery was ours to find. And I found mine. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. be continued....

confessions of a girl scout

I was a pretty good little girl scout when I was a kid. So what , you say. Well, the fact that I was, and still am, of the male persuasion would normally preclude my being a member of the girl scouts. But since I had two older sisters and a mother who was their girl scout leader, I, by being the youngest sibling, had no choice but to tag along on many of their girl scout activities. I guess I was sort of the troop mascot.

I spent more time at girl scout camp than many girls. Whenever my mother’s troop would head to the woods for some overnight, back-to-nature scouting activity, I got to go along, since I was too young to stay home alone. Dad was always working, driving truck, and he wasn’t exactly Mr. Mom anyway, so, by default, I became a girl scout. Mind you, I’m not complaining. There were some distinct advantages to the situation.

It would probably be helpful to set the time frame for that phase of my life. During my advenures as a girl scout I was aged five to around eight or nine. Furthermore, we’re talking back in the fifties, a more innocent time according to most observers of recent history. Innocent in that as children back then, we were not bombarded with the life lessons that constant media exposure inflicts on today’s children. Nowadays most three-year-olds have, not just a grasp of anatomical differences, but the necessary nomenclature to apply to those parts that make girls and boys girls and boys. Back then the words penis and vagina were not even thought in polite company, let alone actually uttered loud enough for anyone to hear. So, of course, my innocence about the differences between genders was profound, but not unusual.

So, getting back to my girl scouting days with that innocence as background, I found some interesting ways to explore the differences between those girls and me, not quite knowing what I was going to find, but knowing that I had to find it. You’re probably thinking that with two older sisters I would have, at least accidently, found out a bit more than someone with only imagination to inform him, but I was either totally unobservent or my sisters exceptionally modest. With a bow to family privacy, we’ll assume modesty to be the vehicle of my ignorance. That’s why those girl scouts were so important to my edification about the mysteries of femaleness.

We, my girl scout troop and I, went to the campground fairly frequently during the summer months and I got to know that girl scout camp like the back of my hand. I spent a lot of time exploring and learning all the short cuts and interesting side trails as well as the hiding places so treasured by little boys. I was left alone much of the time with the only instructions being not to leave the camp environs. So I had plenty of time to scout out the best locations for the spy games and sneak attacks that fueled my imagination.

Of course, all my time at girl scout camp was not spent sneaking around and spying on people. The majority of the time I could be found down by the river that formed the western boundary of the camp chasing frogs and fishing with a cane pole off the bridge that spanned the dam which created the pond that teemed with all those fish and frogs. Muddy shoes and filthy jeans were the uniform I wore everyday. I learned to build a campfire and to start it burning using one match and the right kind and amount of kindling. I knew all the words to all the favorite girl scout campfire songs and, yes, joined in enthusiastically on all the verses of MIchael Row the Boat Ashore. Soulful renditions of Kumbaya were a mainstay of every campfire. And I loved it all. be continued.....

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

it's the economy, stupid

That we are plunging headlong into a full-blown recession is the accepted opinion of all the so called experts. It is undeniable when everyday we hear more stories about people losing their homes because they were granted ridiculous mortgages that they couldn’t afford. The cost of gas and diesel fuel isn’t just inching upward, it is racing up the ladder of inflation. Thousands of jobs disappear every day, or at least head overseas to a more congenial economic climate. The stock market fluctuates wildly and scares the common cents out of the common investors that make the markets go. Before long the dollar will apparently be worthless on the global economic scene.

So why aren’t the three still standing presidential candidates talking about all this. They are more interested, it seems, in discussing their candidacies than with the issues that we, the electorate, are concerned with. There is more talk about the allocation, distribution and commitment of super delegates than there is about the allocation, distribution and commitment of our tax dollars.

Barack Obama made a brilliant speech about race in this country; now he needs to make a brilliant speech about the economy in this country. Hillary Clinton seems to think that the federal government can bail out all those overextended mortgagees by renegotiating those mortgages and then throwing money into the pot and then claiming that it won’t cost taxpayers anything in the long run. The Republicans think they can cut taxes and still bring in more money. Is it any wonder that John McClain admits to not having a clue when it comes to economics?

At this stage of the presidential race to the nomination, it would appear that our votes should be aimed at the candidate who will assemble the ablest group of experts who can manage this economic crisis. Unfortunately, we don’t know who those experts will be until after the election. From what the candidates have said so far, they don’t have any more of a clue than we do, so it’s off to the experts we go. The trouble is, isn’t it those same experts who got us into this mess to begin with?

Granted, this is a very complicated issue with its tendrils reaching into a cauldron filled with contributors to the problem. Immigration, foreign trade, the ever-rising cost of health care, and of course the infamous war on terrorism, all have something to do with the current economic problem we face. Throwing $1200 government checks at us isn’t going to solve anything, though. After all, that money is coming from you and me to begin with through our tax dollars, not from some generous sugar daddy who just wants us to feel better. And it seems to me that the constant drumbeat of disaster predicting journalists in the various media contributes an unnecessary rhythm as we march ever closer to economic instability. The more they prophesize recession, the more likely it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are no easy solutions, but is it too much to ask that the current crop of presidential wannabes at least acted interested? I would feel more confident if they would seriously address the economic issues we face in our lives everyday. It is not good enough to just get elected and then come up with a plan. We need to know where you plan on taking us before we get on that bus.