Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Glorious Autumn

It's the last day in September. We're into our packed fall schedule heading into October, November, December and the run-up to Christmas and New Year's. But this year feels different. I can't quite put my finger on why, but it seems somehow meloncholy.

Maybe it's the events of the past twelve months which tore our economy apart and left us all to try to stay above water till things returned to "normal." But this recession-depression-calamity hasn't seemed like others I remember. This time I could see the pain on faces, feel the panic of friends and neighbors, and finally be affected personally by Barbara's lessened support for her teaching work and more cutbacks at her school. I'm sure that's part of what I feel now as September Song comes to an end.

And also maybe it's the loss of both Mom and Dad within six weeks of each other a year ago beginning at Halloween. We flew to Indiana for each funeral, of course. On October 31 the fall foliage was ablaze and glorious. Dad loved the leaves and took many beautiful photos and videos of them for decades around our county and down at the Salamonie Reservoir and State Park. Glorious, glorious autumn. Crisp, pumpkin weather, a bright sunny chill in the air, the old brick Bingham farmhouse now converted into a flower shop. I thought at the time as so many old friends came to pay their respects, "Well, you did it, didn't you, Dad. You brought us back to our autumn and family and friends we hadn't seen for years. It was a shame it had to be like this, but it is somehow your hand in it all, and I'll bet you are smiling down this day. Dad treasured family and friends above everything.

Mom died at the start of January, and when we flew up for the funeral it was snowing everywhere, and very beautiful and very cold. Mark and Scott made snowmen and snow angels at the motel parking lot, and we got some snow disks at Walmart and slid down the big hill at Memorial Park, grown men turned ten again. We gave the snow disks to some real children when we left for the airport; there was nowhere left in Huntington for our possessions then, with the house long sold, we couldn't pack them for the flight home, and what would we do with snow disks in South Florida? The stark maples and elms and firs were black and twiggy against the glaring white blanket that covered all as we laid her to rest beside Dad's grave, barely settled and still fresh earth. And again the good friends and family made their way to pay their respects with us and renew our stories and our bonds. Mom and Dad had planned their final arrangements years earlier, and done so well it was inspiring.

Barb's brother, Stephen--my firstborn's namesake--, had been the folks' living will executor and taken care of just about everything for many years as they fell victim to Alzheimers and the infirmities of age and needed nursing home care. He lived with his wife just 22 miles away, and everything fell to him to care for them, sell the house, pay the bills and manage. He did a Herculean and wonderful job of it, and his city manager skills of balancing many things at once served him well. There was little we could do but try to be supportive of his decisions. We were 1,200 miles away in Florida and could only visit the home town Barb and I both grew up in once or twice a year.

This summer for the first time in many years we didn't go to Huntington. And now a year has passed since the sweet sadness of autumn and winter of the previous October and January.

We are headed for Mackenzie's ninth birthday party this weekend, and we'll be with Dr. Steve and his lovely wife Rhonda, Christopher, who just turned twelve in August, and the birthday girl. who just may be the most beautiful granddaughter in the world.

Then we're flying to New York this Halloween to see the Central Park's autumn at its peak, which is supposed to be the last two weeks of October and the first week in November. Scott is looking forward to some fall foliage photography with his new high resolution camera. (Sound familiar?) Something pulled at me to go also, something hard to explain. Something abiding. Family. Love. Continuity. Circles unbroken. But I really wanted to, and talked Barb into it. She can scarcely afford the two days off work, but one's a teacher workday. She'll go, with our middle son Scott and me over Halloween weekend and we'll be together with Mark, our youngest, with the family again, in autumn. Glorious, glorious autumn.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Senator Kennedy's Services were Historic and Inspiring

I thought till very recently I was very lukewarm at best toward liberal causes and parties, Though I have always had a strong sympathy for the tribulations and terrible sacrifices of the Kennedy family, my initial response to Senator Kennedy's passing was gratitude his suffering was ended, after a long and accomplished career, and he alone among the brothers had lived long enough to die of natural causes. As with the recent deaths of Michael Jackson and other icons, I realized the news services would spend many hours honoring and celebrating his life--hours I would probably tire of. But as the tributes and services continued into the weekend I found myself drawn to them. They spoke of a man I really didn't know, or only knew one side of, and a most remarkable life. In it I found enduring values. Loyalty. Love. Patriotism. Adventure. Compassion. Wit, humor, grit and determination--this man grew throughout his life as I would hope to grow, despite his shortcomings and unbearable tragedies. In the end he reached a personal character and stature that might have been impossible in a normal life.

Senator Ted Kennedy's passing closes a long history of steadfast service to the nation he loved despite its toll on him and his family. I did not embrace his causes, but I was very moved by his funeral and memorial services. At his funeral came his colleagues from both sides of the aisle to pay homage and tribute to a truly great American, family head, friend, colleague, father, brother, son, uncle, grandfather, and remarkable human being. His Democratic colleagues from the Senate were there of course, but so were Senators John McCain and Orrin Hatch, among many other Republicans. It was the first time I can remember seeing so many political rivals together in civility, common sympathy, and cordiality in many years, and one commentator remarked that Kennedy began his career at an age when political rivals still could view their opponents as fellow patriots.

Teddy wasn't perfect, but he was larger than life in both his accomplishments and shortcomings, and his concern for his fellow man was legendary. He was a champion of political accomplishments, but even more a champion of human compassion, so much so , eulogized by the President and honored by the presence of three former presidents at his funeral, including Carter, Clinton, and Bush. Placido Domingo and Yo-Yo Ma were among the musicians to perform, and to hear his children speak of their father, and the children of Robert and Jack Kennedy of their uncle, to hear so many touching stories of courage and humor, love and concern from one's own family made me weep with many others.

Regardless of one's politics and philosophy, from a human standpoint I hope that every American will one day listen to what has been said of this remarkable man, because it contains inspiration and lessons for us all to emulate. Perseverance. Compassion. Family. Faith. Love. It wasn't just about Ted Kennedy and partisan politics, liberalism or conservatism. It was about how to live and how to treat others. Teddy Kennedy's life had lessons for us all.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What a Trip!

We left steaming South Florida for Branson, Missouri, camping in our used 2004 RV in its second long trip. I had gotten the potty valve replaced and a new carbeuretor on the generator, silicone-caulked the shower skylight, had a tuneup and replaced a leaky tire valve, and gotten the old lizzie really roadworthy, and we'd carefully packed and loaded up. When we left Coral Springs it was raining cats and dogs. But our spirits were high. Even with rising fuel costs replacing staying in motels, it's still cheaper to go camping when we take a summer trip, and for us, more fun. And though we'd used our "Ritz" for a spare bedroom on holidays and taken it around the state the past couple of years, this was to be a major test of whether we could still enjoy a nice out-of-state, non-Indiana-bound vacation trip living and traveling in it.

We planned our trip this year to travel to places we'd never been before and were curious about. Rather than following our usual route up through Eastern Tennessee and Kentucky to Indiana, we peeled off to Birmingham from Atlanta and enjoyed visiting Alabama, Mississippi, and finally Memphis, where we'd cross the mighty river into Arkansas and eventually head up to Branson.

But before we went west we visited Graceland. Who hasn't got a rich memory trove of associations from Elvis's life and music? And Graceland, though it has been widely publicized and filmed and featured from the beginning of his fame, was very different from what I had known of it beforehand, and much more impressive. I was especially interested in how much Elvis had done to make it a family home he could share with Priscilla, Lisa, and his parents and friends, and how proud he was to be able to share a mansion with his parents in such contrast to their humble little house where he was born in Tupelo, not far south. He was never so happy as when he was home with his family, we were told. By the looks of it, that may have been true. He built in a lavish billiard room, studio, lounge, formal dining room, several music rooms, a handball court, stables, car collection loggia and riding meadow. A large modern office for his father Vernon to later run his worldwide affairs following his death was converted from space in an adjacent garage, and the huge collection of The King's career memorabilia, trophies, gold records, famous movie outfits and other items had subsequently been displayed very efficiently in lighted-cabinet-lined halls converted from around the handball court.

What impressed me most, I think, was the very well done, even ingenious design of making it all of it available and enjoyable for the endless volume of tourists and visitors that flock to Memphis' leading landmark. We were given to understand that that is mainly thanks to Priscilla's personal hand in the planning and design. For example, there's nothing "touristy" about the estate. To look at it from the street, you'd think it was just a spacious, attractive home. But across the street is a Disney-sized parking lot, two personal full-size jet airplanes you can tour optionally, an air conditioned, modern visitor center, themed souvenir shops, photo lines, and shuttle busses whose only job is to move the throngs forty yards across the street in manageable size groups, each carrying a comfortable, personal headphones that feed comments in the ear as one moves from place to place in the mansion and grounds. Guests aren't allowed above the first floor, but there is plenty of access to all the rooms there and in the lower levels and adjacent buildings and grounds, and the tour ends at the columned family memorial garden sloping to the south of the mansion where he, his parents, and other family members are buried.

But for Graceland, the street is unremarkable on Elvis Presley Boulevard. Neighboring homes are average, and even the mansion wouldn't draw comparison to larger estate homes elsewhere. But one feels the presence of a remarkable life, a vibrant love of life, a warmth and an exuberant, generous spirit throughout. It's been very well maintained with a combination of respect, love, and memory. I was most impressed with Graceland, our first vacation attraction, and one I'll never forget. The family, to their credit, seems to have realized that their beloved and iconic leader belongs not only to them but to hundreds of millions of others worldwide, and to be eager to share what he was and what he gave with those many others.

We drove to Hot Springs, Arkansas that evening and camped at a mountainside KOA, then went in to visit the baths and spas the next day. Again, we were very unused to what we found, totally surprised at the large hotel-style bath houses in a row, with inviting Adirondack chairs reclining across wide, white-pilastered porches and cool spa chambers discretely segregated into male and female facilities by the prim morality of their heyday in the '30s and '40's. They even had separate elevators for men and women on the two halves of the buildings so the genders wouldn't accidently mingle in their spa-ready immodesty.

We had looked in vain for Hot Springs National Park until we found we were in it! The city spa area is the national park. I had always thought a national park was undeveloped, pristine woodlands and lakes, with only the occasional log building, but not so this one. I have always scoffed at buying bottled water, but in the gift shop here I bought only an empty bottle, labeled, for nearly three dollars, then took it around to the back and filled it from hot water coming straight out of the rock, clean and clear--and free. It's in our refrigerator now. We'll drink it on a special occasion.

As at Graceland, I felt the presence of many spirits here as I moved silently through the bare gray marble and porcelain baths, elaborately-fitted showers, and massage rooms. FDR had treated his polio-racked body here, and many arthritic and neuro-muscular diseased souls found healthy improvement--real or imagined--in this Lourdes-like place over the years. The theme of images and statues from ancient Egypt was frequently found on walls and stained glass--anks, Ramses and Nefertiti heads, gold and jeweled statuettes on shelves, etc. Mysticism and faith intermingled to convince the body the mineral hot spring water somehow cleansed their ills. I've never visited such a place before, like Graceland, and I'm very happy I did.

Driving up to Branson later that day took most of our time, but we found the best campground of the trip--a private one at that--and an office calico cat that we could have easily mistaken for our own Dixie, left to the care of the vet back home while we "dared to go where no man has gone before"--at least not us. That night brought the first rain of our trip, then woke us with violent wind and rain turbulence about five the next morning. We thought overhanging branches were banging against our camper, but it was our outstretched awning wrenching, flapping and twisting and threatening to rip off the supports. We ran outside to find one of the owner's sons hurriedly helping us furl the awning and secure it before it was ruined, a gesture we really appreciated. No harm done, but it was one doozy of a storm that hit. No damage, fortunately, by morning.

We saw a show that night--a pop music review variety show at the Osmonds dinner theatre. The Osmonds, as most other name stars, were not in their theatres that night--Andy Williams' Moon River Theatre, Dolly Parton's Dixie Jamboree, etc.-- but we got a taste of the over one hundred nightly shows competing for the tourist dollars of Branson. There weren't that many of us in the audience, however--perhaps 70 or 100 at most, no more than enough not to cancel the performance. I realized the shows were hurting. Too many, and not enough people. I also realized the mounds of high hills of Branson, Missouri weren't very grid-friendly as I got lost more than once in a one-street town and went the wrong way. Branson wasn't what we expected. I couldn't easily find my pickin' and grinnin' bluegrass and country music except where we paid for it, we didn't really find that many RV's, and there weren't many adjacent stores except in the malls and riverfront, with its tony shops and Hilton waterfront fountain-and-flame displays. We cruised on an old-style riverboat and invited Geoff, an accountant from Manchester, England, to chat with us, in what was to be what we best liked about Branson.
And it did fill our memory coffers with new experiences and interesting people.

But Branson wasn't what any of us expected, and that's the thing, you see: when you go somewhere new or try something different, you may not always like what you find. But that's the adventure of it. Would it have been better to retread our Indiana vacation routes of many years one more time? No. We were doing something different this year. I didn't know how different it would become.

We left Branson after three days and headed for--of all places--Gatlinburg. Maybe we'd just lost our Lewis and Clark adventurism. But we quickly got lost in the twists and turns of the Ozarks and drove through eight of the ten Mark Twain National Forests that blanket the state of Missouri in huge patches. And the highways, though good road, have nowhere to turn around and steep side ditches that make even pulling off impossible for many miles. In an RV it was torture, and went on for hours and hours. Barb said if she had drunk cream it would be butter! We dubbed that the quote of the trip.

Finally we crossed the mighty Miss again (and immediately again across a second span). I thought it was just an island in the river. It was instead the confluencing Mississippi and the Ohio. We were at the juncture of two of the great rivers of our nation! I had seen it on maps many times. Now I was there. And we were in Kentucky! We camped at a KOA when we reached I24 shortly thereafter, in the only campground where we built a campfire and had a "patio party" as we call our late night family discussions outside.

Next day we drove to Gatlinburg by way of Nashville, and from then on we were done exploring new routes. But we weren't done with having new experiences. It was a mistake on my part to think going to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, would be a good way to experience a July 4 weekend. We fought for a campsite in a Pigeon Forge loaded with camps and got the last one at Rivers Edge, one of over two hundred fifth wheels, Class A's (bus style), Class C (overhead cab on a small truck chassis), and Class B's (van conversions). It took us a half-hour to get off our exit ramp, and another hour just driving through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge while we burned up our cellphones phoning KOA's that wouldn't even answer and several campgrounds in a 2007 Woodall's, the campers' bible. But we finally got set up and stretched our newly-bought semicircle of red,white, and blue bunting across our Ford grille like a big happy smiling car character. The place was packed.

We didn't know how packed it was until Barb and Scott walked two miles at 11:00 from the Trolley stop rather than wait for another trolley that night. With so many vehicles on a one-street town, only trolleys were crawling around town and into Gatlinburg, and the service was badly overloaded and poorly managed. Schedules were way off. Scott and Barb had tried in vain to reach the Christmas Palace before it closed, only to be interminably stopped by their trolley to grab off another 50 cent fare here and there. They got to the store ten minutes before it closed. Barb was devastated. The Christmas Palace is her holy grail of Gatlinburg area shopping, as our sundry-decorated christmas tree gives testament to. Even worse, the Bob Evans next door was shut down for good--another unwelcome surprise. How could a major restaurant like that go out of business in a place like Pigeon Forge? The economy really is bad.

But the next day was far worse than even the night before. There was no way we could heft that RV of ours into Gatlinburg against the sea of cars clogging all the lanes. Why I thought we had to even go is a mystery to me now, but go we did, to the stop for the trolley to take us the other direction from what we wanted to go, the trolley central hub, where we had to board a Gatlinburg-bound, nonstop second trolley to take us to the Aquarium trolley hub in Gatlinburg. And that one wasn't air-conditioned, was packed in its 30-passenger posted maximum capacity with a standing-room-only 50-passenger overload. I've ridden some jarring New York subways, but that trolley had them all beat. I had to not only stand the whole trip but had to strain on tiptoes to grab onto too-high rails to avoid falling. But for the crowded aisle I might have ended up on another passenger or three. When we finally debarked I was nearly nauseous, and we whisked up the street to a Wendys I knew of, in the Mountain Mall.

That lunch helped a lot, but where was the pickin' and grinnin' I was sure we'd find? Nowhere! No "Rocky Top", no cloggers, no local washboard bands on the streets, no music except what the storefronts played. Not like last year at all. The economy again, we thought. Cities couldn't justify hiring entertainers with jobs at stake. Oh, it was bad, bad. We continued up and then down the street shops and Scott and I rode the aerial lift to a great overlook of the city, which we really loved. But the trolley ride back was only a little better than the trolley ride there, and overall we were really miffed. Supper was a long waiting line at the trolley stop hub nearby restaurants next to Liberty Park, where the fireworks would soon begin, if you can imagine. Another dream down the tubes. If I couldn't depend on Gatlinburg, where could I find a balm for my country soul?

The fireworks later were nominal, but at least we had good seats. As the last site in the camp, we were the first in line for viewing, it turns out--that is, at least till some pickup trucks pulled in across our bow and their viewers set up lawn chairs in the truck beds. Oh well....

Following Branson, the plan now revised had been to head for Gatlinburg, then Charleston (Scott's never been) then Savannah (same) then home. When we left Gatlinburg, however, our collective wanderlust was gone. We started for home, but got restored enough that we salvaged a quick tour of Savannah at least. And we all had a good tour trolley (we had sworn we'd never get on another, but this was an uncrowded tour trolley with points of interest map and interesting comments by the guide/drivers, on/off stops at our pleasure, and good organization and execution. It restored our faith a lot. Charleston would have been interesting also, but it required more of us and was more out of our way. We were ready, when we left Savannah about three in the afternoon, to come home. We pulled in about eleven that night. And over the next several days we began to mythologize what a wonderful time we had, as we're prone to do with the passing of time. In a few more weeks it may seem like the best time we ever had.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Two Loves Have I

The French produced a song in the war years of Marlene Dietrich: "Two Loves Have I." At heart I also have two passions: music and writing. I suppose thinking and feeling are more valued to me than even music or writing, but my two passions express what I think and feel, so I try to find outlets for each.

For music I play the keyboards I have bought over the years and the $10 piano I bought from a lady in Aventura whose condo got flooded in Hurricane Wilma. I call it my $10 piano, though I paid her $100 for it because I'm a softie, and paid the movers another $100 to get it up here to Coral Springs. She was, however asking $10 for it, so I insist on calling it my $10 piano.

Unlike the electronic keyboards, I can really whack the heck out of my $10 piano and do so several times a week. There's nothing like the feel of pounding a true piano to release my hostilities and express myself emotionally. It's been a lifelong passion, one I used to make my living doing back in the day. I grew up with music, and I suppose met my wife through music. I must have it. I don't think I could live without it.

Between writing and music it's a hard call which passion I love most, but I know it tilts toward music when it comes to expressing feeling. Suzanne Langer, the American philosopher, called music "the sentience of feeling." I think that's very true.

Writing undoubtedly provides a wonderful outlet as well for expressing my feelings, but it's greater strength is for expressing my thoughts and reflecting upon whatever interests me. I usually do this through exposition, but at times through lyric poetry or fiction if my imagination is so inspired. Such inspirations are becoming less frequent as reality tends to dominate my attention more the older I become.

But it wasn't until very recently I began to appreciate that there is a great divide in my writing needs between writing to myself and writing to share publicly. In my private, handwritten journal I am able to jot down ideas more or less at the speed they come to me, unedited and with no concern for sharing them in blogs or anywhere else.

The mistake I've long made is believing I could transfer to the internet what I write strictly in my own journal, with the same lack of self-consciousness that I enjoy writing to myself alone. I simply cannot say to others, no matter whether family, friends, in a classroom or online, what I can say to myself. The moment I try, I begin to edit. I immediately feel the need to make sense, for one thing, to write coherently in reasonably standard English sentences, and not to just jot wordplay or nonsensical snippets as I feel free to do in my journal.

For another difference I find that I sometimes pray in my journal, which I would never feel comfortable doing online. Prayer, I have found, is nearly the only kind of expression that I can be totally honest doing. It would be absurd tying to be less than honest in prayer; who would I be fooling? Myself I might deceive, but not God. I believe deeply in prayer, but I don't feel comfortable praying online. I do, however, in my private journal.

There are many other differences as well, but no need to go into them here. My subject for this post is still about expressing myself through writing and music, and as I try this venue and that I find I don't need another place to write online. I have my blogs to express what I can publicly and my handwritten journal to express what I only can express privately.

And speaking of my blogs, I began another a few days ago as what I hoped would be a fresh approach, having gotten a bit tired of Writetosayit's look and feel over the years. I began it on Blogspot after trying a couple of Wordpress blogs I was using over at my commercial site, And I began it out of spite.

Let me explain:

I read in someone's new Wordpress blog how happy he was to be at Wordpress and to be rid of Blogger and Blogspot, which he said was "like living in the '50's" When I read that, I bristled. I doubt the fellow was even alive in the '50's, but I understood why he felt as he apparently did. Blogger is, in fact, a bit of a conservative dinosaur as a host, and definitely not "hip"--a bit long in the tooth, as they say. Browsing blogspot's typical posts it's rare to find the kind of f-word, in-your-face ranting and insulting language that sully many other sites of other hosts in this age of Twitters and tweets, MySpace chats, Craigslist crud, messaging and other gatherings which abound on the net. Blogger was one of the first to enable free blogging and built it to by far the largest hosting site in the world for many years. I don't know if Wordpress or any other host has matched its numbers yet, but that's beside the point.

I do know this: people on Blogspot tend to be more mature than the tennyboppers and frenetic professionals at Wordpress and other community-oriented hosts. Not necessarily more mature in years but seemingly past the rebellious stage of their lives. The people who run Blogspot also seem to provide sensible help menus and not get carried away with geeky techtalk to bloggers who just want a lay answer to a simple question. Blogspot menus make sense to me and the personality of the templates remains as attractive as anywhere.

The only thing I still find annoying at Blogspot is the hoops set up that force us all to do nonsensical, illegible word verifications for most posting and commenting. Other sites have managed to make this process--which I admit is a necessary one--less confusing and still be effective.

Oh, Blogspot also has a few quirks like producing thousands of duplicate copies of blogs I didn't write to clog up my editing lists. I gave up trying to delete them all after a few hundred. And Blogspot still has a long way to go for those after wider syndication. I suppose they don't want spam creeping in, but other sites syndicate widely in a range of formats through notification services like technoratti and ping-o-matic, and I miss that. Blogspot's still in the '50's that way.

In any case, I like the '50's and liked living in them. I like visiting Disney/MGM in Orlando with it's '40's and '50's themes and art deco buildings. It's what I grew up with. So that young man, who never lived during those times, disparaged what I value, and for that, I won't blog at (plus the fact that they slap ads on your blog over there without asking your permission, which is why I quit them a few years ago.) If anyone is gonna pay any bills with my blogging, it's gonna be me. Sometimes spite feels good, and Hello Dolly, I'm back home where I belong. It's cool here, man, reeeel cooool....

Spring Housecleaning

It was time, I decided, to do some spring cleaning on my growing venues of expression. I scrapped the former blog "NBK Stuff" and saved only its former space on Blogger under the temporary title of "Summitsummers." But that blog didn't succeed in distinguishing its purpose or tone from this one, "Write to Say It," so I deleted Summitsummers also. I still maintain several blogs with my main expository journaling Writetosayit, my fiction and poetry writings, Inner Elves, and now a new blog on my commercial website,, in support of my spreadsheet budget product. That's really enough to catch ahold of whatever I feel I can say publicly.

I scrapped NBK Stuff because it outlived its purpose: to try Adsense ads on a blog and see if it made me a millionaire overnight. It didn't, and so out she goes. But why did I try to start Summitsummers?

It had to do with the way Blogspot is set up. When you delete a blog, the dashboard keeps it around in case you change your mind and want to reinstate it, and also asks you to create another blog on the spur of the moment to take its place. In fact, it doesn't even let you leave the page until you type in the name of that new blog. So I did, and called it the first word I could think of, "Summitsummers." Where that came from is beyond me. But it got me off the page.

Everybody Blogs Today

Everyone takes pictures today, so why ever hire a photographer? Everyone sings, so why pay to hear a Pavorotti or Sinatra? Everyone also blogs, so why read another's posts?

Yes, we can all do lots of things, but we recognize there are some who can do them better than we can ever hope to.

Now we blog, and it seems today people around the planet are posting away with feverish abandon, pouring out whatever they think for the world to read. But we don't have to go far to find that some are more widely read than others. Why?

Having posted for several years on several sites, I'm convinced the main reason some blogs are more avidly read and others read only by friends and family is a sense of the writer's authenticity. That's a complex thing to define exactly. But it comes through whatever is written, from choices about site design and lauout to a "feel" of the template and look of the font, what the writer says and how he or she says it, the style, the sound, the rhythms of speech and imagery, the choice of words and so forth. Some writers seem more authentic than others, to have more to say, or to say it in a memorable way.

As a student I had a fascination for the writing of William Makepeace Thackeray, the author of Vanity Fair. While classmates found his writing a slog, I just loved to hear whatever he said. Garrison Keillor, author of the Lake Wobegon Days and A Prarie Home Companion on NPR is another such idol of mine. I never tire of listening to or reading his work.

That's authenticity, personality. So if everyone blogs today, who will read them? Actually, many will, if readers sense in their words an engaging authenticity, if they feel the author has something to say in an engaging way.

We Lost Our Compass

We're getting ready to take a Ritz trip, and we're not sure where. It may be one of those existential junkets where we move around as the spirit moves us and the weather seems inviting. When we get our of Florida and head west, it's often flooded around the Mississippi. When we go north the rains or heat waves can be intimidating. When we go to the eastern seaboard we get eaten alive by giant mosquitoes. And we can't go much further south.

My inclination so far is to head for Branson, Missouri. We've never been there, but we've seen some features of it on television and it looked like somewhere we'd enjoy, kind of a laid back country music mecca like Gatlinburg, Tennessee which we like, or Nashville. We saw the Grand Ole Opry there a year ago and loved it. So with an RV and our informal tastes we ought to fit right in at Branson.

One year we headed for the Rockies and got close enough to Denver we could see the mountains, even though we were still in Kansas. Thunderheads rose up over them into a blue sky, and we knew we were in for it. That night it rained so hard, with hail beating down on our poor tent pull camper, that we had to run for our lives into our van to wait it out. It lasted for hours, and we slept in the van. In our haste we didn't have time to slide the beds back in under the roof and they got sopping wet.

The next morning we drove about six miles into Lawrence, Kansas with our clothes, our sleeping bags, our pillows and our foam mattresses all soaked with water even after we wrung them out and tried to mop out the camper. Fortunately, we found an open laundromat and began drying things out.

The operator of the laundromat listened to our tale of woe about the night before, and said he'd never seen so much rain there, nothing but water, water everywhere. It reminded him of his years in the navy, which, he said, was the reason he moved to Lawrence, Kansas. He said he never wanted to be near so much water again, and he had taken a ruler and a US map and calculated that Lawrence was the furthest point in the Continental US from any ocean, so that's where he'd live. Now that's quite a reason to live somewhere, I think--to get as far away from something you hate as possible.

We won't go to Branson for any reason so dramatic, but it seems far enough from South Florida that we'll feel we got away from our routines for a time. We'll see.

And from there we might go on further west up the Missouri valley, or over to Memphis and see Graceland, or up the Mississippi to the Dells, or over to Virginia's Shenandoah, or down to New Orleans, or who knows where. We don't.

In most years we didn't have this freedom. Lots of years we didn't have a special destination in mind, but we knew we'd be going to our hometown of Huntington, Indiana, because that's where the folks were. For the forty-one years of our marriage we might go west, east, north, or south from wherever we were living at the time, but we'd need to catch Huntington either going or coming back. For many years we'd stay at the house, but when dad and mom needed to go into nursing homes, we started staying at a motel. Living and working in Florida, we got to see them only a couple of times a year at most, often only once. We treasured those visits because we feared each time we might not see them again.

So this is really the first summer in forty-one years we're free to go wherever we'd like, because for the first time, sad to say, we have no living parents to visit. Barb's dad, then mom, died within about two months of each other this past fall and winter. We still have other relatives and friends in there, but they're apt to be around for awhile so we don't feel the same pressure to head for Huntington.

Maybe that's why we have no real destination in mind this summer. Mom and Dad in their Huntington nursing homes were like a compass, charting every summer trip for four plus decades. Without that compass, we're kind of lost, I think. We don't know where we ought to try to go.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Donald's Amazing OPEC Greed Index

When the economy fell off the cliff last fall, Donald Trump predicted, "I'll tell you one piece of good news: you will see the price of oil drop like a rock!" And he went on to say, "I hate OPEC. Every time the stock market goes up, OPEC raises the price of a barrel of crude and takes the profits. Every single time!"

He was right. Within days gasoline prices followed the price per barrel down, down, down from the high over $4.00 a gallon last summer to a little over $1.00 at its lowest point in the depths of the stock market decline. But now, with the market improving, up, up, up goes the oil price again, creeping up through the dollar-something range to just over $2 at the pump. Then, yesterday, here, ka-boom! Up suddenly 16 cents per gallon all over town! They couldn't even wait for Memorial Day weekend.

Some say they're just responding to increased demand for summer driving. I say balderdash, they're following OPEC's deathlock stranglehold on the Dow. Summer driving's actually predicted to be lower this year, but the oil companies and station owners are gleefully jumping the gun on declaring the recession over, I guess. (Odd how they all seem to agree on the same amount to hike their prices in one day in our "free market system" isn't it.)

But The Donald's insights may provide a convenient index to how much we've grown the economy since the pits last January. If gas has gone from about a dollar to about two dollars per gallon, then the economic recovery, by the Trump Index, has come back about 50%. Similarly, if it fell from about four dollars per gallon to about two dollars, it has fallen about 50%.

Forget about the Dow, the Consumer Confidence Index, the Gross Domestic Product and all the other imposters that attempt to tell us how well or how poorly we're doing. Trump's OPEC Greed index may be all we need.

Saturday, May 09, 2009 lives! (but it's lots harder than blogging)

My budget spreadsheet enterprise, formerly at (see previous post below), has a new home now at I gambled that a more descriptive domain name might better facilitate searches for budget programs. And I set it up with, ranked number 1 in Best Web Site Hosting reviews, chose my domain, and set up shop.

This time I'm not just referring potential customers to affiliate sites as I did before because I had no way to accept payments conveniently on my former site. (Snail mail, checks or money orders, etc. ". . .went out the window with the cracker barrel cask and demi-john," as the song says. Today's buyer expects instant access for digital products, and rightfully so.) So I set up a Paypal purchase button on my homepage that accepts Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, or Paypal accounts and triggers an instant download. Most of the rest of my pages provide help with setup, use, budgeting advice and faq's.

Next I needed to try to get listed in the search engines and directories which could help steer traffic to my website, and of course soon got overwhelmed with offers from the legion of advertising and Search Engine Optimization companies who all promise the moon. It's odd that anyone trying to start up an online business of any kind would believe they could move a new budget spreadsheet product, which lists on average about 70,000,000 sites each wanting the user searching for "budget" on Google to click on them alone, into the top ten listings in two days, as many promise and often guarantee.

The hardest part of setting up my new has been waiting for the various search engines to send their robots to my website and crawl my content, set up my listings, and announce my birth to the world wide web of ecommerce. When I was creating the site for a few weeks, I always had things to be done, and I worked in "terrier mode," as Barb calls it, till it was ready. After I installed my Paypal system, I bought my own spreadsheet twice, once each with my Visa and my Mastercard, to make sure the customer experience was smooth. It didn't cost me very much, about 80 cents each, to test these. I quickly got my spreadsheet onto my own desktop as ordered.

But for nearly a week, while the search engine bots have had their way, I have tried to occupy myself tweeking, refining my pages and my product, and strategizing my marketing. But I hate to wait.

This afternoon about four finally popped up on MSN's Live Search, my new site's first listing on a major search engine. And this time my search for "pageamonth" didn't direct me to, but to I've rejected trying to redirect or add to my site as too expensive. To register a second domain for the sake of a redirect almost costs more than the first name. Besides, as I whined in the previous post below, no one besides family visited for a whole year when it was on my previous hosting company. There's no reason to think they would on a new one. I'll just have to make sure moves ahead of it in the listings with use, which I think will happen since anyone who clicks on the now defunct will get a 404 page not found error.

I notice Google and Yahoo have now both sent their robots to index my site, so their listings should follow MSN's soon. But I still fear what every ecommerce "startup upstart" fears: no one will visit the shop, no matter what tags we use, no matter where or how much we advertise, no matter how many links to our site we beg from our friends and relations, or even in desperation subscribe to link farms to push up our rankings. Visitors won't come, because of a simple reason: they won't know about us. We'll get lost in the hundred gazillion trillions of other sites doing the same thing, offering similar products, and people won't have the patience to find us after the first ten pages of trying higher-ranked budget sites first.

My original problem, as I see it, remains: No one knows what a pageamonth is. I thought of instead but concluded it was too long. Now I'm having second thoughts, because at least the latter tells a potential buyer what my product is, and that it's not what the only other pageamonth listed seems to be: a wedding planner.

Unless and until I throw up my hands and end this torture yet again, I'm sure I'll have more perils of pauline to relate about my plunge into ecommerce again through the summer. But this much I can assure my blog readers: ecommerce isn't for the faint of heart. It's not a blog, and you're not going to get curious visitors like a new blog, or higher rankings from creating more posts, text, and photos like a blog. Anyone who expects to get rich for little effort as an online merchant is just nuts. And the only good reason to try it, the one that drives me still, is that he believes in the usefulness and value of his product. I do. I wrote my budget spreadsheet and have used it rather than Quicken or MSMoney or the more sophisticated software packages for many years, wish others would try it, and invite anyone interested to visit the emerging and have a look, tell your friends, spread the word, buy one for your graduate, and let me know what you think with any suggestions you might have, in comments here or at my email, I'll "get a hit out of you," as another song says, and move up my ranking a notch from 69,998,762.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Dotcom Is Gone, But Not My Budget

After a year of trying to sell PageAMonth, a spreadsheet budget software file I wrote and still find is better for keeping track of my bottom line than any program like Microsoft Money or Quicken, and not selling even one of them during that whole year despite lining up two vendors, I had my site removed from my webhost today.

A year ago I spent a lot of time building up charts and help pages, but I had to admit I had committed a fatal flaw from the getgo: I had set up a commercial website to sell a product by using my own name for that website instead of something suggesting what I was selling, a site name which had no chance of attracting hits from anyone looking for a budget program.

I call my spreadsheet PageAMonth Budget, and I should have started a website called instead of Had I done so, I might have been able to attract enough traffic through the search engines to interest someone in trying it. But in the past year I only got a few hits from random users, and I wasn't going to spend even more money on the host's offers to increase my traffic with their wonderful expertise.

I screwed up. I screwed up by letting my ego get in the way again. What will I now do with the budget? Well, I'm not sure. I'll continue to use it personally, of course, as I always have. I wouldn't use anything else, frankly; it has worked great for me for many years. And it's still for sale as Mybudget.xls on for $19.95 if anyone wants to take a look at it. But I'm not going to hold my breath; they haven't sold any in a year either.

As for, I didn't bother to move it to another host. I just let it disappear into sitenotfound oblivion. I felt there was no good reason to use it anymore. It was just an ego site, and I don't need it any more. But I was thinking about writing a small book instead, on how to start a home budget using the experience I used to develop PageAMonth. Maybe I could peddle a manuscript more successfully than I did a spreadsheet file.

Hmm. Maybe. Or maybe I should try eBay. People buy Virgin Mary patterns on burnt toast on eBay. Maybe someone would buy my nifty spreadsheet budget.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

I Bynn At Lynn

Just as I was getting used to retirement two things happened: the economy collapsed and I was asked to return to the classroom, both of which knocked me off my stride.

At first the economic crisis just made me wary, then worried as it spread and I watched the For Sale signs sprout in our relatively well-heeled neighborhood, then right up and down the block, observed our neighbors move quietly out and know not where; I could guess why; watched in amazement as name brand stores died off with a whimper: Circuit City, K Mart, many mall stores going dark, not to mention so many construction firms and manufacturers. Our eyes were so shocked at the rocking and reeling banks and investment houses and the threat of losing our entire auto manufacturing industry that we hardly kept up with all the other smaller stores and services that were quietly going under everywhere.

When I finally got notified by my 401k that their directors had voted to pay 30% less interest and dividends on my savings each month I felt the downturn firsthand for the first time. It wouldn't sink us but would limit our options for sure.

By that time, however, the second retirement-stopper had happened: I got a call from my former employer asking me to return to teach two art appreciation classes. They had terminated the instructor in mid-semester for reasons I was not told nor cared to know. The reality was they were in a rather desperate need to staff the courses, which met a total of all five weekday afternoons, immediately, with a qualified instructor . Since I had taught those classes for years, I was ready to go and agreed to do it for the students' sake.

So I adjusted my mindset to a schedule again, got my dress shirts, trousers and ties out, and headed back to the campus five days a week. Fortunately when I had left for what I thought was forever last summer, I had kept a key to the lock on my old equipment cabinet when I turned in a duplicate--"just in case" I'd need to use it again someday. My equipment, my slides, my textbook, and my other course materials I had left for the next guy were all there and ready to go, and I revised my syllabus, cobbled together midterm grades from the scant information I could gather for the students' work to date, and resumed the course the way I teach it. It took the students a few weeks to readjust to my style and methods, but they have done so, just as I've adjusted to their learning needs. We will finish out by the end of this month.

In light of shrinking pension incomes, I have since agreed to return for a section again next fall and have been listed, so it looks like my next "retirement" will probably be after next Christmas again at the earliest. Maybe the economy will begin to generate better times by then, but I'm not going to hold my breath. No one knows how long this crisis will go on, or how severe it will get. As I write, things show some signs of improving on many fronts, but whether it will sustain a true recovery remains to be seen, as does my degree of retirement for the near future. I'll have to wait and see.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

March Was Harsh

March lived up to its reputation as a windy, blustery month. I think it began to blow like heck by the third and didn't stop till today, a month later.

And I have this theory that the weather is somehow made to order for the events that happen in our lives, like a well-scripted movie. So in keeping with the storms, we have had situation after situation for a month, each challenging us to handle it.

I hurt my left ankle working on ladders. First painting the front trim, then installing an attic access ladder in the garage and flooring in the area above. I thought I was up to it. I wasn't. I twisted my foot badly and it hurt for a month like hell. Today, finally, after wearing a brace for most activites and trying to stay off it as much as possible, and taking a mountain's worth of painkillers, I can do without both the brace and the painkillers for the first.

In the meantime, however, I picked up a really nasty head and chest cold from the March winds. Normally I don't pay a lot of attention to such occasional colds, which come every year or two and bring on a few days' worth of discomfort then get sweated out and are gone. This one, though, brought on at various stages chills, fever, hypothermia, dizziness, and other symptoms, and it didn't seem destined to go away by just letting it spend its course. By Tuesday I heeded Barb's advice and went to the doctor without an appointment, waited two hours to be seen by the nurse practicioner, and went on antibiotics, decongestants and an inhaler.

As I pulled out of the drive Monday morning in another gale force tempest, I thought I heard and felt the sickening thump-flop, thump-flop of a flat tire, and sure enough, the passengers' rear tire was resting on its rim. That was one of my more fevered mornings, so changing it wasn't easy, I sweated mightily and feared my cold would turn to pneumonia without much more March weather. Later that afternoon at school I had to walk to my car parked in the back lot, and the sky emptied on me. I drove home wet and cold.

Barb, meanwhile, came down with my cold as well. So we're going through the Kleenex boxes like crazy and hoping to get in good shape for our trip Thursday to New York to see Mark's new apartment over Easter. Scott's coming up from Orlando as well, so we're hoping to have a good time. But at this point I think we'd settle for just being well, being over injuries and other maladies, and above all having this insidious flu-like cold way past being contagious to the others.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Earth to NBK, Earth to NBK...

Remember George Orwell's "other" novel, 1984? I remember when folks kidded that the futureworld, Big Brother state the book described was the punchline of a joke about what might happen to the country if we elected John F. Kennedy to the presidency over Richard Nixon in 1960. If the former had his way and Shanghaied the 1964 election as well, he'd serve till 1968. Then his brother Bobby would serve eight years till 1976, then Teddy would inherit the privelege for eight years, and--wait for it --do you know when that would bring the country to? 1984! Har har har.

I bring this up because it suggests something near and dear to my heart: the great ignored adverb among the Who What When and How descriptors is When. Check the news stories. They tell us what happened, usually where, and who was involved, and if space permit, how it happened. Rarely does when it happened get more than a brief mention. We're really not that concerned about time. Events, yes. People, yes. Location, sure. Even the grim details of process. But When is the least of our concern.

George Orwell sealed the irrelevance of his book with his dated title, and in our sophomoric humor of that day that I and my buddies thought was so clever, I couldn't foresee the joke would become so outmoded as the years passed. The year 1984 came and went without any Orwellian events to speak of that I'm aware of, as have most years since.

We set another date for Armageddon, or at least a year of Great Significance, as the new Millenium approached, in the later 1990's. I remember when I married at age 28 in 1968 I had wondered if I and my peers would live to see the year 2000. Lord, I'd be 61! That was nine years ago, and I don't feel any different. I look different, no doubt--more gray hair creeping around to the back that's still black, less thickness to my top combover in the morning mirror--but I feel the same, basically, as I did ten, twenty, or even thirty or forty years ago. Ageing doesn't proceed in a straight, linear fashion for me. It's more like a series of fits and starts, more of a spiral. And sometimes I actually feel I'm getting younger, like what's his name in the movie.

I was 61 in 2001 when the Times Square Ball dropped on New Years' Eve as the true new millenium began, and guess what: nothing changed then either. Not really. Not the things that count. I'm still the same, Barb's still the same beautiful bride I married in 1968, our sons have grown and left the nest, but they're still the same to me they always were.

So what am I trying to say about time? Well, I'm not Henri Bergson who held that time is merely the illusion of a continuum, that it's actually a succession of moments. And I'm not Albert Einstein, who believed time could be slowed or sped up through theoretical physics. But I am convinced that the perception of time, at least, is very changable, seeming to fly by at lightning speed when I'm stuck in a computer problem and seeming to crawl along like a slug when I'm not busy or when I'm waiting on something or someone, or watching a slow download meter creep by.

In my latest fascinations, I'm speculating there may be no real past or future, that all is contained in the present moment, because that's the location for my sense of the past as I remember, or my sense of the future as I imagine. If that were true, it would help me grasp some big concepts like when God began, if he had no beginning in time, and how it could be that some things could always have been and will always remain. Would it be possible to imagine something outside time and space as we know them? I think so. It doesn't strike me as any more farfetched that all time could exist in a moment than that all matter in the universe might have existed in a nano-speck, packed so densely light could not escape it--i.e., a black hole.

In any case, I'm getting hungry now, so that just explodes my universe theories. I have to fire up the grill. We're having pork chops tonight. Let's see now, how long do you cook pork chops?

New Normal Needed?

What can possibly turn around such a world-wide economic crisis as the current one? Everyone is worried now, not just those who have lost their jobs or their homes or both. Everyone is threatened, it seems.

We've moved beyond trying to find out who caused this monstrous mess, because it's getting closer each day to our house. Godzilla has leaped off the B movie screen and is swishing his powerful tail through our neighborhood. And we don't care how the beast got here, just how to stop him!

The federal government is now trying to turn things around with the power of money. And most of us are hoping that will do the trick. But few of us think we're going to regain our prosperity with just the latest trillion or so; it may take several trillion more to restore the American Dream we thought we were living and everyone felt entitled to.

Well, there's nothing wrong with the American Dream. The problem is in not looking at it in total. To many it is synonomous with wealth and property. And it is attainable as soon as the wet foot becomes dry, as soon as we "arrive" on this land, whether as high school or college graduates seeking instant high-paying jobs or homebuyers taking out mortgages they can't afford or immigrants seeking a better life. To too many, The American Dream is instant, material success. Never mind that most have to work for it over a lifetime. Never mind that even then many will never be able to have it as fully and completely as those whose talents, intelligence, labor, skill, ingenuity and drive or even plain luck propelled them to realize the dream and others to fall short despite their best efforts.

As with so many components of human aspiration, the American Dream is an ideal, not a practical guide for living. It is like justice and love, freedom and equality. It is an ideal to be strived for, a beacon. Unfortunately, the government has led the American people to believe it can and should solve all our problems and needs. And now it finds itself in the unfortunate position of not being able to deliver, no matter how many stimulus bailouts it throws at the problems.

We will, I'm afraid, soon learn this the hard way. Many have suffered grievously and many more will suffer before our faltering economy rights itself. But when it does, I suspect it will come from the ground up, not from the top down. It will begin when people realign their ideas about how much they are entitled to for doing so little actual work, when they begin to accept responsibility for their own choices and actions, when they begin to help their neighbors and their communities again and treat each other with fairness and compassion and good will instead of asking for more, more, ever more for themselves and to blazes with everyone else. I think there is a moral flaw in the naive expectations that everyone should deserve to have everything and something is wrong with the American Dream if they don't get it without doing anything to earn it.

It is said that people come together in adversity. We will see in the coming days if that is true. And if it is true, we may emerge a better nation, a better people, than we were when we thought things were "normal," having a better grasp of what the American Dream really is about: it is about freedom and opportunity, not about guarantees and the same level of wealth and material success for everyone.

I think it so ironic that so many people want to "get back to normal," as if that were such a wonderful thing to get back to. We need to temper our economic engines with oversight and accountability no matter what political party is in power in the future. We didn't before, when things were"normal." We need to readjust our expectations to reflect the realistic productivity of our labor, our innovation, and our resources and skills viz-a-viz the rest of the world. We didn't, when things were "normal." And probably we need to regain a respect for learning instead of looking for shortcuts to quick wealth. Again, that kind of respect has not been "normal" in recent times. If we do these things as a result of the current crisis, then perhaps a new "normal" can emerge based on more solid stuff.

Monday, February 09, 2009

"Coffee Breaks" Different Now for Many

I did something this morning I've been thinking of doing for a long while: have a coffee break out. Usually after my early cereal, I take my morning Constitutional then have my second cup of coffee around nine while I catch up on the news. But for many years I went out for coffee with my colleagues and friends. The midmorning pick-me-up was one of the high points of my day, almost sacrosanct over the years. My friends and I called it "observing the amenities."

So today instead of coming back home after I picked up a few items, I stopped in at a McDonald's around ten and splurged on a Big Breakfast. And no coffee break is official for me unless I take along my notebook and jot down whatever's on my mind. So I put a few remarks on a page or so and felt like life was pretty good. As usual, nothing came to mind to pursue into a poem or story, but experience has taught me that I'm not very creative at coffee breaks. After a page or so of mundane journaling I cleared my tray and came home.

It wasn't till I got nearly into my drive that I noted anything remarkable about what I had seen at McDonald's, for it had been nearly empty at midmorning. There were a few individuals in scattered booths and chairs, some reading the complimentary morning newspapers one finds at such places, some just sitting with their thoughts like me. A few teens were chattering, then they left. A mother came in with three small children in tow, went to the counter, then abruptly came back and left. I wondered why. Maybe she changed her mind about ordering or decided they needed to be somewhere else.

Engaged as I was in my journaling, I didn't notice much else. A man finished the paper and left, another returned my glance looking a bit nervous, I thought. But after I came in my own home and put away the groceries, I knew what was possibly remarkable. All the patrons at McDonald's were young adults, mostly male. All were alone like me. But none of them had Big Breakfasts in front of them as I did. Some had a cup of coffee or other small item. And all of them were very possibly recently unemployed. Some were scanning the papers for jobs. Others seemed just trying to gather their wits about them and decide what to do next. Maybe their coffee break wasn't at all borne out of a desire for a break from routine like mine was. May theirs was an attempt to regroup or get ahold of a sense of provision and normalcy in a world that had recently fallen apart for them.

We don't usually notice the recently laid off or fired or foreclosed on or otherwise victimized by the economic crisis we've fallen into. Maybe we think being unemployed means looking like the stereotypical wino or skid row bum, unkempt, unshaven, the "Brother, can you spare a dime" panhandler or homeless refugee we normally only see in the bigger city streets. We don't notice a guy at McDonald's who looks just like us, dresses normally and is cleanshaven, scanning the want ads by himself in the middle of the day.

The recently unemployed still have their pride. They may even be professionals--engineers, software designers, bankers, accountants, writers, retailers, office workers and other white collar types--skilled and highly educated who until one day recently had a good, high-paying, steady job they thought they could count on to pay the mortgages and feed their families. Those who kept their jobs as the hell of layoffs and foreclosures deepened barely noticed as the guy down the street fell into the abyss. And the lady who sold real estate a few doors down moved. Where did she go? I wonder.

Six hundred thousand new unemployment claims filed since the first of January. Three and one half million jobs lost since the crisis hit last fall. Not just the big banks and brokerage houses, not just the bankrupted Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac government-backed giants and big insurance firms like AIG, but every sector of the economy has been hard-hit, and the crisis is worsening worldwide. We read about it, we hear about it on the newscasts, but it's still not obvious in our streets and stores, groceries and offices.

People don't usually look like they're in trouble. They don't look desperate yet in their faces. Maybe they have some reserves or are finding enough alternate work to stay afloat. Maybe they're hoping for a miracle or counting on the government's series of draconian "stimulus plans" to throw enough money hard enough and far enough that the cleverer thieves throughout our commercial fabric can't make off with it before it gets through to the broader masses.

Maybe--probably--I'm reading too much into the furtive looks of those fellow customers up at Mickey D's this morning. I'm prone to do that, suspicious by nature. But I think it's unlikely those younger folks were just there for a coffee break like I was. And I suspect we'll see a lot more like them scrambling for the morning papers in the near future.

Thoreau said that "Most people lead lives of quiet desperation." How true that is today.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My Mother-in-law, My Friend

I grew up with mother-in-law jokes about the overprotective, interfering, always siding with her son or daughter mother of the bride or groom, but none of them applied to mine. Dorothy was the best friend I ever had, always in my corner, always rooting for us in our marriage from the first, helping us raise our three sons in Huntington, Indiana and never complaining about the many impositions we inadvertantly thrust on her during hectic times.

When I started dating Barbara, ten years my junior, it was Dorothy who thought I might be the right man for her despite my chequered artist-musician, twenty-jobs-a-year past. I was a high school teacher now and had a steady future. And it was Dorothy who nudged her Barbara my way, and was thrilled when we asked their blessing of Dexter and her. We announced our intentions in their living room, and Dorothy broke out in a whoop and a smile ear to ear and clapped her hands. "We'd like your blessing," I said.

She leaned over to Dexter and said, "Well, what do you think?"
"Sounds like a fait accompli, don't it?" Dexter grinned.
"Well--" I chuckled.
"Sounds fine by me," Dorothy said.
"Don't think she could do any better?" Dad kidded with his characteristic dry humor.

We got a ring and got engaged, and set a date for the following March 17, ten days after Barbara turned nineteen. I had already taught at the high school her senior year and we had begun dating near the end of that year, going to Ft. Wayne to movies and getting together at her house to watch tv. Our courtship had been low-key and a little furtive till she graduated, but I knew she was the girl I wanted to settle down with and hopefully start a family.

And Mom was the best friend our marriage had. When we'd quarrel or get upset, I'd ask Dorothy's advice and she'd step in and smooth out the bumps; she was always there for us. Dexter was a frequent presence also, but I never knew what he might bring over. One morning in late spring he showed up with a tiller and plowed us a garden to tend, On the lot next to another house we move to later he started several rows of corn.

Dexter died this late October just before his Halloween birthday, at ninety-three, after several years in the nursing home. We went to his funeral in Huntington just eight weeks ago.

This afternoon Mom died as well, very quickly. She was eighty-eight, and again, only a few weeks away from her birthday February 22. She had "left us" for all intents many years before, poor soul, with acute Alzheimers, and in recent years she often couldn't recognize us for a time when we'd visit, then not at all. But when we went up for Dad's funeral eight weeks ago and visited her, she recognized some of us and even laughed a little when Stephen told her jokes. We got it on videotape, that last visit, to hold onto now. It was the last time she showed any spark of the woman we have loved for so many close years together. By yesterday she had stopped eating and drinking and was taking on fluid in the lungs, and they put her in hospice in Fort Wayne. I got the call to expect the worst within hours earlier today, and by the time Barb got home from school her brother called with the confirmation of their mother's passing.

No, I can't think of any of those mother-in-law jokes I heard growing up. Dorothy basically erased them from my memory with all her friendship, kindness, and love. I feel like I've lost one of the best friends I ever had.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Worlds of Warcraft and Supermonitors

This is my first blog this year, so I wonder what to report. I guess I'll just express thanks for a great Christmas and New Year's holiday period to my incredible family, whose visit these past days made Barb and me so happy and full of cheer!

I got to see my sons and daughter-in-law, and spend some time with my grandson and granddaughter too. I even got to speak with my New York son because he's a major game-player of World of Warcraft, the incredibly imaginative game from Blizzard corporation of California that produces mages, gnomes, healers, dragons, mechanical chickens to ride around on, shapeshifters and other medieval spirits galore. Since both Scott and Barb play it many hours a day and Mark joins the raids whenever he's not designing sounds in Manhattan, I got a lot of ear time.

This year might be called the year of the big monitor. Barb's always looking for a bigger screen for her WOW quests, and I had already returned the wide screen HP monitor that came with her computer to her desk before Scott arrived and wired in his even larger 21" monitor. Then we bought him a flat panel high-def 32" Visio, and after hooking in a slingbox so he can get cable channels slung to it, he used it for a WOW monitor! That meant Barb got to use his 21" one, which she loved.

We also got Steve and Rhonda a big 52" tv for their new house, which they richly deserved. Their help for Mark's back surgery since June saved us all many thousands in costs. But Scott seized the first chance he got to set it up as even a more humongous 52" high def monitor for WOW, sending his 32" Visio over to Barb to use and making his originally very large 21" monitor look like a handheld toy screen.

They all went home to Kissimmee and Hernando in central and northern Florida today, taking all the big, beautiful, colorful WOW tv/monitors with them, alas. Barb went into shock to see her puny widescreen HP back on her desk. I think she wants a wall.